Michael Kirby says that while the days of "don't ask don't tell" with regards to homosexuality does not apply to him anymore, lawyers and judges still face barriers when it comes to being open about their sexuality.
"I played by the rule of 'don't ask don't tell' early in my legal career," the former High Court Judge told Lawyers Weekly this week. "While I have been open about my sexuality for a long time now, there is no doubt that gay people still face significant levels of discrimination in Australia."
Kirby made the comments ahead of the screening of the documentary; Michale Kirby: Don't Forget the Justice Bit, on the Compass program on ABC on Sunday night. The program recounts Kirby's legal career going back to his days as a student at Sydney University in the 1950's, and includes interviews with his partner of more than 40 years, Johan van Vloten.
In the documentary, Kirby reveals why he likes to wear a yellow jacket to social functions, the time he acted for the writer Bob Ellis when he was on a trespass charge while they were both students, and the difficulties Kirby faced being a gay man in Australia in the 1950s and 60s.
"My soul is at peace[with my sexuality]," Kirby remarks in the program. "But for a long time, I had to postpone daily realities."
In discussing the documentary and many other matters with Lawyers Weekly, Kirby opened up about his sexuality and religious beliefs.
"I am very uncomfortable with politicians giving interviews in front of a church," Kirby said. "It is inconceivable that Menzies, Whitlam or Fraser would have done such a thing...religion should be a private thing."
Kirby said that being a Christian helped him as a judge to "have an open, tolerant and compassionate view". He also said he believes that, on the whole, the Australian justice system works well. "I am very proud to work in a legal system where judges are uncorrupted," he said. "We can be very proud of the legal system we have and the values it promotes."
However, he does not hold back when talking about where the law has failed: "The fact is that the law doesn't get it right all the time," he said. "It didn't get it right for Aboriginal Australians, women, refugees and homosexuals...the rule of law alone is not enough to ensure a tolerant and civilised society."
An in-depth discussion that airs Michael Kirby's views on balancing his Christian beliefs with being a High Court Judge, why he is as busy now in retirement as he has ever been, his views on why Australia will have a Bill of Rights "in due course" and why he is still passionate about issues concerning human rights and social justice will be featured in an upcoming edition of Lawyers Weekly.