Monday, November 26, 2007

Bishops 'hinder gay tolerance'

HIGH Court judge Michael Kirby says only some of his colleagues have accepted his homosexuality, and that he is unhappy with the way relations between them have developed.

And Justice Kirby accused the Anglican and Catholic archbishops of Sydney, Peter Jensen and George Pell, of making it hard for people to adopt a more tolerant attitude to gays.

Asked on ABC radio's Sunday Profile if some of his fellow judges had yet made "the journey from tolerance to acceptance of your homosexuality", he replied: "We have our different values and our different life experiences, and they have theirs and I have to respect theirs. If I'd had a different life experience, maybe I would have been a bit different."

The "great dissenter" said he enjoyed his time on the NSW Court of Appeal, which he left in 1996 to join the High Court.

"I wouldn't say (I was) happy with the way relations have developed. That would be putting it too high," he said.

In the NSW court "there were judges of different philosophies, and that was a very beneficial thing because then you have an interaction and a frisson of opinion within the court," he said.

"That doesn't exist in the High Court of Australia at the moment. I'm off in a minority of one, not always but sometimes, and that really is different, and you can't have as rich a human relationship with people in those circumstances."

The judge said he took his partner of 38 years, Johan van Vloten, "along to dinners with the Queen and with the Governor-General and everybody's getting used to it".

He hoped his sexuality was not an issue in the current court "though it is true some of the justices perhaps have less liberal views than I have".

He declined to elaborate. "It's a bit like a family, you know. You have to live with people, and sometimes in a family it's better not to say things. It's better just to let things pass."

He added that his "close friend" and former High Court colleague Mary Gaudron "was always a very strong supporter" of the couple.

Justice Kirby says he understands the discomfort of some people around gays.

"Often, it has to be said, it comes from religion," he said. "It comes from people's religious upbringing, reinforced even to this day by religious instruction, and it has to be said, religious instruction from the two archbishops of Sydney.

"My partner, Johan, is not a believer and he constantly says to me, 'I don't understand how one of the most intelligent people in this country can take any of this stuff seriously'."

The judge, who must retire in March 2009 when he turns 70, says he is a "Christian Anglican" and that he has "hung in there" despite his partner's advice to "get out of it".

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