High Court judge and long-term human rights activist Michael Kirby has won new praise with a public call for same-sex marriage equality.

Speaking at a national family law conference in Perth this week, Kirby said marriage -“ and its related legal benefits -“ should be available to all.

The High Court judge revealed he and his partner of nearly 40 years, Johan van Vloten, had considered marrying but decided against it.

The issue is not whether marriage is wanted by everyone but whether -¦ it should be available to all citizens who feel the need for that form of public affirmation of their relationship, Kirby told the conference.

It is a source of puzzlement to Johan and me, as we go about our tranquil lives, that there are many fellow citizens -“ some of them well educated and very important -“ who seem to be threatened and upset by such relationships and who feel the need to discriminate against them by laws enacted or unenacted by our nation’s parliaments.

It would seem to be in the interests of society to support stable and mutually sustaining relationships.

Kirby’s speech came amid plans by the ACT government to pass an amended civil unions bill recognising gay and lesbian couples (see story here). The federal government vetoed the bill earlier this year because it said it likened civil unions to marriage.

Kirby said restricting marriage and related legal benefits to heterosexual couples saved the government money but was hurtful.

We can understand that such laws sometimes help keep people like us out of pension, superannuation and other rights that we would enjoy if we were married -“ or even if we were an opposite-sex de facto couple.

[But] such attitudes and -˜dog whistles’ over this issue constitute a puzzle, and a hurtful one.

The speech won strong support from gay activists. Lobby group Australian Marriage Equality said it was delighted with Kirby’s stance.

It’s now time some of our straight supporters, both inside parliament and outside parliament, also spoke up, spokesperson Peter Furness told Sydney Star Observer.

Sometimes we hear some people who claim to be opposed to discrimination but baulk at the M-word [marriage]. They’re having us and themselves on if they think that way. You’re either equal or you’re not.

Activist Rodney Croome said, The importance of Kirby’s speech is that it will inspire people who support equality to raise their expectations and their voices.

Rod Swift from Australian Coalition for Equality said Kirby’s speech showed only equal marriage will allow same-sex couples the kind of full legal equality that’s transferable across [state and territory] borders.

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