On This Gay Day: Michael Kirby became a High Court justice

In 1996 Michael Kirby became the first openly gay person to be appointed to Australia’s High Court

Michael Kirby became the 40th judge appointed to the High Court of Australia, and the first openly gay member of the court, on this day in 1996. The highest court in Australia has just seven judges and being appointed to the court is seen as the pinnacle of a career in the legal profession.

During his time on the court Kirby was nicknamed ‘The Great Dissenter’ as he often disagreed with his colleagues on matters before the court, especially on cases relating to the constitution.

Kirby retired from the court on 2 February 2009, shortly before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70. He was succeeded by Virginia Bell became the first lesbian appointed to the High Court. Bell is a ’78er who marched in the first Mardi Gras parade. Bell retired from the court in March 2021.

After finishing his tenue on the High Court Kirby has lead a commission of inquiry for the United Nations into Human Rights abuses in North Korea and campaigned for British Colonial era laws outlawing homosexuality to be removed in Malaysia, Singapore, India and other former colonies.

He was a prominent campaigner for marriage equality in the lead up to Australia’s postal survey that lead to the laws being changed, and been a continual champion for LGBTIQ+ rights. He speaks regularly at universities and conferences. More recently Kirby has been at outspoken opponent of the Morrison government’s proposed Religious Freedom legislation.

In 2019 Kirby wed Johan van Vloten, fifty years after the couple first met. The pair met in the Bottoms Up Bar of the former Rex Hotel in Sydney in 1969.

Michael Kirby shared many stories from his life in his 2011 book Michael Kirby: A Private Life, fragments, memories, friends. 

OIP Staff

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