Michael Kirby marries Johan van Vloten on their 50th anniversary

Michael Kirby former high court judge same-sex marriage religious freedom religious discrimination
Photo: Supplied

Former High Court judge Michael Kirby and his longtime partner Johan van Vloten have tied the knot on the 50th anniversary of their first meeting.

Kirby, who served as a High Court judge from 1996 to 2009, wed van Vloten at a private ceremony at their Sydney home on Monday, with Kirby’s brother Donald and van Vloten’s nephew Len as witnesses.

Celebrant Michelle Bailey told wedding guests that within weeks of their meeting in a Sydney gay venue in 1969 the pair had been introduced and embraced by their respective families, ABC News reported.

As the years went on, the couple endured the loss of friends to “the scourge that was, and still is, AIDS,” said Bailey, who also works as a research scientist at the Kirby Institute, which was founded in 1986 and of which Kirby is a patron.

Kirby and van Vloten’s wedding was “proof positive of the capacity of love to prevail over obstacles, hostility, change and the passing of time,” she said.

After 50 years together, Bailey said, the couple did not “feel a special need to secure a document from government.”

“Shared love does not seek permission from officials for its existence,” she said.

“At this stage, they did not feel that they had anything to prove about their love. Fifty years and counting says it all.

“Tonight’s step is not therefore even a ‘new beginning’. They insist that it is a continuation of what began 50 years ago.”

‘Our relationship is one of spouse and spouse’

In a speech at Bond University last November, Kirby revealed that they had warmed to the idea of getting married after the passage of marriage equality in 2017.

“We were not all that enthusiastic. Not because we didn’t support the right of citizens to get married if they wished to, and not to be disqualified if they were LGBT,” he said.

“But because we’ve been together now for 49 years and eight months. And so it just seemed a little artificial.

“It seemed a little late for the confetti. And it also seemed to us a little bit patriarchal.”

Michael Kirby says they won’t call each other ‘husbands’

But with their anniversary approaching, Kirby said they had “ultimately decided” to tie the knot.

“We’ll get married at home. We will never call each other husband,” he said.

“Many gay people call each other husband. Our relationship is not like husband and husband.

“Our relationship essentially is one of partner and partner or spouse and spouse.”

Kirby said if he could relive one moment of his life it would be meeting his partner in a Sydney gay venue in 1969.

“I met [Johan] in what was then one of the very few gay bars in Sydney – the Rex Hotel,” Kirby said.

“I never went to hotels. I’m not a big drinker. But I was like Princess Mary. She went into the Slip Inn in Sydney and picked up the crown prince of Denmark.

“I went into my hotel and picked up my partner, Johan, and we’re still together. That was a very memorable encounter.”

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Jordan Hirst
Jordan Hirst

Jordan Hirst is an experienced journalist and content creator with a career spanning over a decade at QNews. Since 2012, the Brisbane local has covered an enormous range of topics and subjects in-depth affecting the LGBTIQA+ community, both in Australia and overseas. Today, the Brisbane-based journalist covers everything from current affairs, politics and health to sport and entertainment.

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