Wednesday, April 09, 2008

In conversation David Marr and Justice Michael Kirby

Last night at the St James Institute I heard a conversation
between David Marr,Journalist and writer and Michael Kirby,
Justice of the High Court of Australia.
Both men are openly gay.

David grew up in the wealthy North Shore suburbs of Sydney
and went to one of the leading Anglican schools. He also has
a law degree. However he rejected Christianity and any belief
in God while at University apparently as part of coming to terms
with his homosexuality. Michael grew up in a middle class
suburb, went to State schools and has maintained his faith in
God and is a member of the Anglican church. The contrast in the
area in which they grew up was the source of some banter between
them.

I have a particular interest in Justice Kirby as we grew up in
the same suburb, he is 5 years older than me. We went to the
same 2 primary schools (his brother, also a judge, was in my
class) and high school (Fort Street) and then onto University
where his trajectory far eclipsed mine. I learnt last night that
he went to the neighbouring parish to mine as we lived on the
border.

I want to stress that I did not take notes and David Marr taped
the conversation as both men have been the subject in the past
of scurrilous attacks by right wing persons. These comments are
from memory and not to be taken as literal quotations.


The existence of the tape also caused some amusement as in a
discussion of the monarchical system (Michael Kirby is also a
monarchist, another point of comparison with me) David described
our present Governor-General as bland and while Michael
disagreed he referred to the problem when a Governor-General
becomes too activist by just pointing to one of the many photos
around the wall of the Banco court of past Presidents of the NSW
Court of Appeal rather than commit to tape. My Australian readers
will be well aware of the name of the Governor-General to whom
he alluded. Justice Kirby believes that a monarchical democracy
is one of the best forms of government where the head of state
who swans around in limousines opening activities and buildings
has no real power. No argument from me there.

There was discussion of the influence religion would have on
the determinations of a judge and Michael said he could not
divorce his general religious beliefs from his decisions but it
would be wrong for him to impose any narrow denominational
belief. Remember he is working with constitutional laws and on
cases where appeals have already progressed through the other
courts of the land and so he works on the cutting edge of the
law.

However of most interest to me,naturally, was the discussion of
religion and homosexuality. Michael Kirby considers it a good
thing that the world Anglican church is involved in discussion.
I am not sure he is fully aware of the angst and heartbreak
that it is causing but I guess it is better than pretending it
does not exist. David began by asking his opinion as a judge on
a case where a younger son (call him Jacob) deceives his blind
father (Isaac) to steal his older brother’s birthright. Wasn’t
this an obvious case of fraud which the Bible does not condemn.
Michael wanted to move straight to Galatians 3.13 where Paul
states that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law. His
belief was that the new covenant had removed the old. He stated
that almost no-one believes the earth was created in 6 days a
bit over 5,000 years ago as we must use our modern scientific
knowledge and rational thought in our bible study. David
retorted with the sermon on the Mount where Jesus said that
“not one jot or tittle of the law will pass away”. I did not
feel that anything was solved theologically but these were
lawyers not theologians. Michael did stress that the law cannot
just deal with words alone, they must be put into context.

David accused Michael of hiding his gayness in his
conservativeness. Michael pointed out that while he did not
openly declare his gay status until after he became a High Court
Judge, it was no secret in the profession. He has had the same
partner for 39 years and they were seen together, he never
committed the ruse of attending functions with a token woman.
He said he had been hurt when he hadbeen told some of the gossip
going the rounds of the profession. Although he thinks his
progression was slowed, he feels a young lawyer would not find
his gay status a barrier today. I am not so sure.

He stated he has regular correspondence with Archbishop Jensen.
He sends a polite letter to which the archbishop always replies
politely and he then replies in turn politely. I guess this is
to be expected between two men at the top of their very
respected professions. However after a question from the
audience by a gay man, David Marr read out a letter sent last
December by a leading Anglican clergyman in the Sydney Diocese.
Michael had not given permission for the author’s name to be
revealed, which I found disappointing, except tosay he is the
Rector of one of the wealthiest parishes in the diocese.

The letter would have done justice to Phelps and his mob
stating that Justice Michael Kirby need to repent of his sinful
ways or face the fires of hell etc. etc. The full letter was not
read out, just as well, as I am sure my blood pressure was rising
in anger and shame that this should come from an Anglican
clergyman.

Justice Kirby had passed this on (without revealing the writer’s
name) to Jensen who replied that while strong the writer
probably meant well and there might be something for Justice
Kirby to learn from it.

Justice Kirby continued his polite approach and hoped that people
would leave room for discussion even as Jensen goes to Jerusalem
for GAFCON. He claimed his good health is because he does not
bear grudges.

If I was more confident in public I would have liked to comment
that, while such a letter can be treated with disdain by a
learned High Court Judge, what effect would such an attitude
have on a young person worshipping in that man’s parish who is
struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. He might,
like David Marr, reject his faith. He might, like me, after many
years of unhappiness and stress find that is not the Christian
truth and somehow manage to keep his faith and his sanity. Or
he might like one of my friends at university decide to take
his own life unable to reconcile his faith and his sexuality.

7 comments:

Alcibiades said...

Thanks for this Brian - I really wish I could have been there.

Your comments on the letter (the author could be any one of a dozen or more names running around in my head) are very correct. For every young person with the self-esteem which Justice Kirby obviously must have had, there must be many, many who on hearing that kind of evil rhetoric find themselves crushed and alienated.

What perhaps angers me most is that however polite he may be when addressing the famous and powerful on the public record, the viciousness of +Jensen's actions, as well as those of his family, friends and supporters, prove his real feelings to be very different.

Phelps is a loathsome creature, but at least he's consistently so, and doesn't say one thing to the succesful and confident, and another to the weak and defenceless. The wolf in sheep's clothing is always a far worse danger than the cockroach scurrying across the wall.

While appreciating Kirby's gentle spirit, my feeling is that the time has past to apologise for 'men' like the author of that letter and the Archbishop who rewards and encourages them - not to mention the structure inside which they've sheltered from anti-discrimination laws which apply to every one else. There's too much blood on their hands.

Grandmère Mimi said...

How sad. There is such a great need for those in leadership positions to be models of strength, compassion, and kindness for gay young people, to help them find their way and give them courage and hope.

Anthony said...

I think you reported the night well Brian.

Possibly there are different ways to bring change. Some are repulsed by an aggressive angry gay activist and for some, their approach re-inforces their already negative view of gays and lesbians.

There are times when His Honour is not backward in coming forward and speaks with great clarity and strength. Mostly though his approach seems to one of a person who practices his faith by living it. I think there is a place for overt and covert activism. Covert activism powerfully changes others by breaking down barriers.

Personally, I've sought to look to Justice Kirby as my mentor. It fits well with my personality.

BTW....if you'd like to share the story of your friend from University who suicided I'd be interested to hear. I've been collecting information so that hopefully in the near future it can be used to bring change. There have been too many tragedies.

Brian R said...

Thank you very much Anthony. I do agree that both approaches are necessary and also admire Justice Kirby. The suicide of my friend was many years ago. We were both at Sydney university and heavily involved with the Evangelical Union along with Phillip Jensen. As was common then, we did not divulge our sexuality to each other. I have met a number of university friends over the years only to discover we were all silently battling the same demons and it was only later that I was told what had happened to John.

Anthony Venn-Brown said...

I think you reported the night well Brian.

Possibly there are different ways to bring change. Some are repulsed by an aggressive angry gay activist and for some, their approach re-inforces their already negative view of gays and lesbians.

There are times when His Honour is not backward in coming forward and speaks with great clarity and strength. Mostly though his approach seems to one of a person who practices his faith by living it. I think there is a place for overt and covert activism. Covert activism powerfully changes others by breaking down barriers.

Personally, I've sought to look to Justice Kirby as my mentor. It fits well with my personality.

BTW....if you'd like to share the story of your friend from University who suicided I'd be interested to hear. I've been collecting information so that hopefully in the near future it can be used to bring change. There have been too many tragedies.

Brian R said...

Thanks again Anthony for identifying yourself. I heard you speak at Penrith over a year ago now. I recommend others to read your blog and particularly the comments about the 100 Revs marching at Gay Mardi Gras.

Anthony Venn-Brown said...

we will never really be able to count the cost Brian. Your friend John is like so many suicides that are unexplained at the time. One happened the other week. I can't give the details as I don't know if the wife and pastor know why he killed himself. Recently I found out about a young man of 16 who put his head a railway track 16 years ago. We now know it was probably his sexuality that drove him to it. He went to a pentecostal church. The other person was Church of Christ. Very sad and very tragic.