It’s dank and nasty in the closet, said Michael Kirby cheerfully to his enthusiastic audience of 600 at the Opera House last weekend. The former High Court judge was ‘in conversation’ with Daryl Dellora, author of the new biography Michael Kirby: Law, Love & Life. All homosexuals, Kirby said, should come out of the closet, stop being secretive and stop denigrating themselves. There were other themes in the conversation. One was Kirby’s spirited defence of government schools — ‘free, compulsory and secular’ — as a democratising influence. Another was the law. (Asked what advice he had for a young law student, he told her: ‘Be prepared to slave away seven days a week, 16 hours a day, honour your parents, and search for spirituality!’)
But the ‘conversation’ kept returning to homosexuality. I doubt that anyone has done as much as Kirby to advance the gay cause in Australia. When he was younger he followed his father’s advice to lie low. The stigma would have damaged his career. As a lawyer he knew he would have little or no hope of judicial preferment if his secret were known. But the advent of AIDS in the 1980s led him to ‘come out’ and campaign for a better deal for homosexuals. In hundreds, perhaps thousands of speeches and papers, he has campaigned wherever offered a platform — from a Jesuit school (Riverview) to the Salvation Army to countless conferences here and abroad. (See his memoir A Private Life.)
The topical issue of same-sex marriage only came up at the end of the ‘conversation’ — at question time. Kirby refers to it as ‘marriage equality.’ Its partisans demand that the reforms already won in fields ranging from taxation and superannuation to aged care be extended to marriage. Why, they ask, should loving, life-long same-sex relationships not enjoy the same public respect as is accorded to heterosexual marriages? Their conservative opponents appeal to tradition, religion, nature, procreation, or the right of the child to a mother and father. The rejoinder from the ‘marriage equality’ camp is that progress often means overcoming established traditions (slavery, geocentricity, creationism, disenfranchisement of women); that while a same-sex couple cannot procreate children they can adopt them (or one may be a surrogate mother); and that they may provide a loving home for a child. The debate is topical because of private members’ bills before the federal Parliament to legalise same-sex marriage. (A similar bill in New Zealand has the support of Prime Minister Key of the National party.) Labor has given its MPs a free vote but the Coalition stands by its pre-election opposition. (How could it do otherwise if it is not to be reduced to the level of the governing party which repeatedly promised there would be no carbon tax and then imposed one?) The bills will be defeated, but their supporters in both the Labor party and the Coalition will continue to push for change. Three things seem sure: One is that the ‘marriage equality’ lobby will continue to reject as unrealistic the Christian slogan: ‘Love the sinner. Hate the sin.’ Another is that it will continue to dismiss civil unions as a cop-out. It demands the full monty. The third is it will continue to oppose a referendum. Whenever the issue has been put in a referendum, it has been defeated. (The exception is California where the situation is confused.) Its best hope lies with legislators or activist judges who will change the law without asking the public — but even this is still rare overall. Tanveer Ahmed summed up the still prevailing view in his recent column in the Sydney Morning Herald: ‘While human sex has never been solely for procreation, there is scarcely a culture on earth in which marriage does not have a deep symbolic tie to reproduction, renewal and nature.’ You may overthrow some traditions, but it is much harder to overthrow human nature. Kirby will quickly point out that there are variations in nature, including human nature. (‘You can’t fight science.’) So the argument continues. Kirby has no doubt that ‘marriage equality’ is an idea whose time has come. He may be too optimistic.
By the way, Daryl Dellora’s book has the standard reference to the late NSW Liberal Premier R.W. Askin as a crook. Dellora refers to his ‘regular brown paper bags of money from the police chief.’ No evidence is cited. This sort of thing was a great theme of journalists in Askin’s last years, especially at Fairfax. The best book on the subject is High Climbers by Geoffrey Reading, his former press secretary. He concluded: ‘If Askin was corrupt he deserves universal obloquy; if he was not, no public figure in Australia’s history has been more deeply wronged.’ He wrote that in 1989, but to this day, to quote the great Paddy McGuinness, not one ‘single concrete, proven example’ has ever been produced. Yet the man’s reputation has, it seems, been trashed forever. Is this what is meant by ‘independent journalism’?
You read it here first! Everybody laughed when the media reported that Mark Latham had tipped Treasurer Wayne Swan to replace Julia Gillard as Prime Minister. Andrew Bolt nearly fell over laughing. (‘Ha ha ha ha,’ he wrote.) But on reflection he thought it made sense. This is precisely what Alan Ramsey (‘the mighty Ramsey’, as Latham used to say) predicted a year ago in a talk at Woollahra Library. It was noted in this column at the time. And who, as Ramsey saw it, would take over as Leader of the Opposition? Malcolm Turnbull of course! Andrew Bolt’s reaction to this prediction is not recorded.Tags: iapps