Before meeting Michael Kirby, pilule I asked myself whether or not the U.S. would have been ready for an openly gay Supreme Court judge. After meeting him, capsule I could tell that whether Australia was ready or not for Michael Kirby, healing he certainly made his mark in history and changed attitudes. Australia’s longest serving High Court judge from 1996-2009, Michael Kirby lives as an example of an openly gay man who has gained respect from his country and the world.
Preparing to meet “Australia’s most famous modern judge,” I read his recent 528 page biography, and checked out clips from his documentary, Michael Kirby: Don’t Forget the Justice Bit. Australia has bestowed upon him two of their highest medals. Internationally, he’s led several United Nations agencies, and last year he received the prestigious Gruber Justice Prize for law and justice.
Rather intimidated by meeting such an acclaimed figure (especially when I saw that he was in a formal suit while I was wearing wrinkled clothes from my backpack), I tripped on my questions during our interview. In a fatherly manner, he told me “Don’t hesitate…just relax.” He answered all of my questions about his gay identity, opinions on the church’s stance on homosexuality, and his 40 year relationship apologetically and frankly. You don’t have to wonder what’s on this judge’s mind.
Justice Kirby came out publicly in 1999. “My partner said, ‘how long do you think we’re going to be around? We owe it to the younger generation to finish this hypocrisy and irrationality.’ So we did. We put it in the Australian Who’s Who? Since then it has been a matter of openness. I think it has been good for Australia and good for gay people.”
We chatted about his youth and his coming out. He says, “The fact that I was gay and that I learned that I had to hide aspect of myself from my family, the people I loved most and to deny myself sexual expression was a very wicked and wrong thing.”
He’s clear about his beliefs and says that “it’s irrational to have to pretend because other people don’t want to know that there is variety in human sexuality. It’s irrational to be secretive about it.” His advice for gay youth of Australia and the US? “I would say, get over it. And if other people got a problem, well they’ve got to have an aspirin, a good lie down and then they’ll feel better the next day.”
Justice Kirby is a model for gay youth in Australia. He says, “My life is an illustration that you can be gay and be a top performer, serve your country, be a hard worker, a good citizen, go to the supermarket, and pay your mortgage and bills. People just need to butt out and stop interfering.”
Kirby made headlines in 2007 when he accused the Anglican and Catholic archbishops of Sydney of hindering the acceptance of gay people in Australian society. He tells me, “It is just the churches out there trying to hold things as they are without any regard of the science that is available to them now. Well, that just won’t work. They just have to come to terms with reality.”
Justice Kirby clearly feels hopeful about the future of equality rights. He says, “The world is on the march to equality to all GLBTI people. In a sense, we all have a moral obligation to do what we can to promote a greater rationality.” He believes that gay marriage will happen soon in his country. He says, “The good thing about Australia is that we’re on the path to change. I think if we look at the changes that we’ve seen in my life, these are changes that are for the better, and most straight people think so too.”
What’s next for Justice Kirby in retirement? His calendar still overflows with international committees, guest speaking, and university teaching. But he’s happiest at home with this partner, Johan Van Vloten. “I’m very lucky to have someone I can talk to. Everybody who wants that should have that.” After 42 years together he says, “I still think he’s a gorgeous man.” He continues, ” I’m very lucky to have someone I can talk to. Everybody who wants that should have that.
VIDEO: What is the secret to staying together for 42 years? Check out Justice Kirby’s beliefs on gay marriage and his advice to Lisa and Jenni…