This Is The Most Romantic Story You'll Hear For Valentine's Day
If the old adage is true that a picture paints a thousand words, then this picture paints 50,000.
And how those words would send tingles right up your spine. For here it is, the highest profile same-sex wedding since marriage equality: Justice Michael Kirby marrying his partner, Johan van Vloten -- 50 years to the day since they met.
I tweeted the picture shortly after the ceremony and it has gone viral. There’s been an outpouring of love for the couple and for Justice Kirby himself. Many are in awe of him and his life’s achievements. Some are saying he should’ve been Governor General. But most are just using the heart emoji on repeat.
Here’s someone who has dedicated his entire impressive career to fighting for others. Kirby’s legal mind is internationally respected and his heart isn’t just cherished by his adoring partner, Johan, but by all of Australia as a national treasure.
Using his former role as Justice of the High Court of Australia -- the first to come out as a gay and the youngest person ever appointed to federal judicial office -- he defended those who are often voiceless, especially indigenous Australians and the protection of their land rights. He wasn’t afraid to dissent in favour of those who were oppressed, when the law allowed him to do so -- and for this, he is hailed as a human rights icon, guided by compassion, a sturdy moral compass and an unrivalled intellectual rigour.
It was the sharpest of ironices that one of our country's biggest injustices was the fact that people like Michael were unable to marry their long-term partners. He lent his voice to those living with HIV and those campaigning for LGBTQI equality. All the while he was fighting for the justice of others, his own relationship was characterised as second class.
So many Australians are invested in that wedding picture today. Although it captures a private moment -- two grey-haired men, one beaming with joy, the other about to touch a face overcome with half a century of emotion -- what many are seeing is a man who blazed a trail, spoke for them when nobody was hearing and lent his talent and deserved fame to their cause -- from animal welfare to human rights.
Even in retirement, he continues to help humans become better. His energy and breadth of accomplishments are breathtaking. While many retirees are filling out crosswords on deck chairs, Kirby leads an inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea.
Every time you think he cannot possibly achieve more than he already has, he pops up again, settling some other major international unfairness. I interviewed him last year in a feature I wrote when I discovered that, behind the scenes, without fanfare or expectation of credit, he was quietly and effectively advising the world’s only openly gay prince, Prince Manvendra of Gujarat, how to successfully lobby to decriminalise homosexuality in India.
Here, then, is a picture of him finally, after all these years, exercising his own basic human right to marry the man he loves and has loved for five decades. In this picture is everything true love is and should be: patience, perseverance, dignity and triumph. How privileged are we to see these two fine men do this in our lifetime? We can only imagine how tough the path was to get here, in a society that often dismissed, humiliated and endangered gay people. Love really has won. This is exactly what we campaigned for.
Of course they should never have waited this long. Kirby turns 80 next month. What an age to wait to marry the person you’ve loved since you were 30. It fills my eyes with tears.
But Kirby is characteristically nonchalant about the whole thing. He confessed to being "rather skeptical" about marriage, after “seeing many gay friends tie the knot, then later divorce.”
They did not want to say in any way that their long relationship was "second class". Ultimately, though, "the 50th anniversary was just too romantic for us to let go."
Tonight, Kirby and van Vloten will return to what is now the Rex bistro. They’ve waited till tonight, a Tuesday, to go back “because we met on a Tuesday. We will go back and ask for a table. Is that weird?”
They’ve waited almost their entire adult lives to tie the knot. Now, poignantly, they’ve waited one extra day to mark their 50th anniversary in this way. Patience combined with dogged campaigning is in their DNA.
Weird? It’s the most romantic story ahead of Valentine’s Day Australia could possibly hear.