8th April 2010

Legislation that does not allow gay marriage is unacceptable, former High Court judge Michael Kirby said today (April 8) at the second International Queer Studies Conference, held at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane.

Justice Kirby, who is regarded as one of Australia's most creative minds and listed as one of Australia's 100 most influential people, is well known for his views on social justice, including same-sex relationships, and is one of the most respected figures in Australian legal history.

During his keynote address at the four-day Queering Paradigms II event, hosted by QUT's Faculty of Law, Justice Kirby spoke about the status and history of laws in Australia and around the world that allowed or criminalised homosexual relations and unions.

He said despite not allowing gay marriage, Australia had successfully demolished laws inherited from its colonial past since changes to legislation criminalising male same-sex relations were first enacted in the Australian Capital Territory in 1976.

"It was part of the sodomy law culture that the British imported into all of their colonies ... (which) included provisions against adult, private, consensual sexual conduct between two men," Justice Kirby said.

"And to this day, of the 53 nations (colonised by the British), 41 still have laws against adult, consensual same-sex relations."

Justice Kirby said despite legalising these relations, Australia still had further to go in enshrining equality.

"The issue is whether as a matter of principle (gay marriage) should be available," he said.

"I have been told that some minister in the present government, when people go around saying how unjust it is that they are denied to civil partnership or marriage, takes the view that gay people will never be happy.

"Well the answer to that is they probably won't be happy until they have full equality of citizenship.

"Equality of citizenship is a very important issue in the mind of a human being and a citizen."

Justice Kirby said winning a change in the Federal Judges Pension Act, which already supported opposite-sex partners, to include equal pension rights for same-sex partners was not enough.

"Once you accept the need to change laws on the money aspects, you have accepted a very important principle, and then to endeavour to hold a line, and mark it in the sand, in relation to money but to deny respect for basic dignity is unacceptable to many people and unacceptable to me," he said.

Justice Kirby said if gay marriage was made legal in Australia, he and his partner of 41 years would probably not get married.

"The idea of getting married is something we haven't fully embraced," he said.

"And indeed, if you've lasted for so long, you'd have to be worried about changing anything of the magic. We are quite happy as it is."

During his address, Justice Kirby played a recording of the song Livin' La Vida Loca by Latin American pop star Ricky Martin, who recently revealed his homosexuality on his website.

"At the beginning of this month, Ricky Martin said 'I'm proud to say that I'm a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am. The secret has become too heavy for me to keep inside, so joyfully I embrace my homosexual identity as something worth celebrating'," he said.

"He's not a philosopher, but what he said was very powerful and spoke of an oppression that was forced on him, and forced on many people in society."

Media contact: Rachael Wilson, QUT media officer, 07 3138 1150 or rachael.wilson@qut.edu.au.

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