Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Justice Michael Kirby

 I have just watched a video documentary on the life of High Court Justice (now retired) Michael Kirby.

Michael is 5 years older than me. We grew up in the same suburb of Sydney, went to the same primary schools and high school. I then followed him to Sydney university but I studied Arts/Education and became a teacher, he studied Arts/Law and became a lawyer, chair of the Law Reform Commission, a judge, President of the NSW Court of Appeals and eventually a Justice of the High Court of Australia.
We are both Anglicans although we lived and worshiped in different parishes. We are both gay but he has had a partner for the past 40 years.

The summary of the documentary follows:

Filmed before, during and after his final days on the High Court of Australia this documentary explores the personal, moral and spiritual convictions of Michael Kirby – one of the country’s greatest legal minds. It charts his formative years, his Christian faith and his 40 year relationship with his partner Johan van Vloten. Although publicly outspoken on an enormous range of social, political and humanitarian issues, for the first time Michael Kirby reveals his private side. 

If you have an hour, please watch, The documentary is copyrighted and at first I could not watch it from outside Australia but then I was successful with this link.

There are scenes from St James. King Street  where I use to worship,  strangely juxtaposed on a description of the Sydney Diocese. Strange because St James is not typical of the Sydney Diocese, not only due it its "bells and smells" but also it inclusiveness. I have seen Michael there at special occasions but not on a regular basis.

A lot of the commentary is given by his brother David, also a judge, who was in my class at school. There is much humour throughout the documentary.

Some notes I jotted down.
Michael compliments the Anglican church as being one church which is trying to grapple with sexuality and calls it a church of compromise.  He, himself, never had feelings of being wicked or hated by God. His soul was always at peace but knows he was postponing reality.

He loves the smell, beauty, music and language of the Anglican church but believes in the secularism of Australian Society.  Religion is private and he is not to be guided by a bishop in robes.

In the late 60's he defended students involved in the desegregation campaigns.

He believes real mischief is done when society forces a young person at a critical moment in their life to hide reality from those who should be a source of love and strength. "Don't ask, don't tell" lasted too long in Australian society.

His own family recognised his right to achieve justice and love.  In one of the most poignant moments in the film, Donald Kirby, Michael’s 94-year-old father, leads the camera through a series of photo frames sitting on a hallway cabinet in search of a single picture. “There’s Johan,” he says. “They’re inseparable; absolutely. He couldn’t manage without Johan; I don’t think any of us could.” He proudly shows photos of Johan with Michael's mother not long before her death.

Michael believes the Foundation of Human Rights is Love.  His brother says Michael will never take a backward step in defending his own rights and other people's rights?

Michael fought for AIDS/HIV as a human rights issue and became the UN representative on AIDS/HIV rights to Cambodia.  This and his participation in advocating Gay Law reform in Tasmania meant that his sexuality was not much of a secret.

However it was Johan who suggested in 1995 that they owed it to the younger generation to be more open and they changed Michael's Who's Who entry to show Johan as his partner. The Newspaper headline was "The biggest non-secret is out"

Michael believes the church needs to look again at the texts and uses the example of the Jewish people asking for the release of Barabbas and declaring that "His (Jesus) blood be on us and our children" as a foundation for the long anti-Semitism in the church. Similarly they should look at the texts on sexuality in light of modern scientific knowledge.

The event is covered when Senator Heffernan used Commonwealth Car documents to claim under parliamentary privilege that the Judge was procuring young men in these cars. These documents were found to be fraudulent and Senator Heffernan was forced to apologise. The documentary points out that Heffernan was close to that viper, Prime Minister Howard, who of course appeared to remain above the affair.
As Johan says "If they had been true, Michael should have been hung for stupidity."


Unknown said...
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Leonard said...

What a inspiring story...thank you for sharing your friend who is a public figure to be held in high esteem.

Brian R said...

I am not interested in comments by people who have no blog of their own but want to push their own hobby horse on mine. Roland said he did not understand my post, I did not understand his comments.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. I missed it on TV. What an inspiration Michael Kirby is to many and it's interesting how he values his Christian beliefs. He seems to rise above all the bigotry and negativity. A high IQ and broad experiences may have helped him see things from many perspectives.