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Articles: Rights & Issues

Justice Kirby speaks to London King’s College of Law

A High Court judge has called for legal recognition of same-sex relationships and an end to discrimination against gays. Justice Michael Kirby-the first prominent member of the judiciary to openly declare his homosexuality-made an impassioned appeal for equality during a speech in London. The landmark address comes barely two months after¬†The Sunday Telegraph¬†revealed how Justice Kirby used his 1999 Who’s Who entry to declare a same sex relationship of 30 years. Justice Kirby’s decision to publicly acknowledge his partner Johan van Vloten won plaudits from the heterosexual and homosexual communities alike.

In his address to the London Kings College of Law, Justice Kirby declared that “the game of shame” that stopped homosexuals pursuing their rights was over. “People are not fools,” he said “Once they reflect on the utter unreasonableness of insisting that homosexuals change their sexual orientation or suppress and hide their emotions…the irrational insistence and demand for legal sanctions tends to fade away. The advent of the human genome project and the likelihood that, in many cases at least, sexual orientation is genetically determined makes it totally unacceptable to impose upon those affected unreasonable legal discrimination or demands that they change.”

Justice Kirby said that it was in the interest of society to protect stable and mutually supportive relationships, regardless of sexual orientation. “I have confidence that the Australian legal system and those who make laws in Australia will, in due course, eradicate unfair discrimination on the basis of sexuality. The scales are dropping rapidly from our eyes.”

Justice Kirby referred to many legal changes in Australia in recent years, including the Property (Relationships) Amendment Act 1999 in NSW. This Act had changed a wide range of laws dealing with property rights on the breakdown of relationships, where a partner fails to make any, or adequate, provision in a will. Other changes to laws included the introduction of migration regulations, allowing same-sex partners to enter Australia in the same way as people in de facto relationships in some cases.

“Australia, like other countries, is on a journey of enlightenment,” he said.