Justice Michael Kirby and his partner Johan van Vloten.
Retired High Court judge Michael Kirby has told a senate inquiry into gay marriage that despite the heights he reached in his career, he remains a second-class citizen because he cannot marry his partner.
Justice Kirby today appeared in Sydney before a committee which is examining a bill from Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, one of three before the federal parliament which seeks to legalise same-sex marriage.
I have never had a satisfactory explanation to me of how my loving relationship with my partner in any way damaged the institution of marriage or would if marriage were available to us, damage that relationship, or diminish it or degrade it in any fashion whatsoever
Mr Kirby said he was there as a private citizen of Australia and a homosexual man, who believed the law should be changed.
Michael Kirby and Kristina Keneally address the senate committee.
"I have never had a satisfactory explanation to me of how my loving relationship with my partner in any way damaged the institution of marriage or would if marriage were available to us, damage that relationship, or diminish it or degrade it in any fashion whatsoever," he said.
Mr Kirby, an Anglican, said it was a matter of great sadness that churches largely opposed moves to legalise same-sex marriage. He spoke candidly of his long-term relationship with his partner, Johan van Vloten, whom he said he would like to marry one day if they were allowed.
"A loving relationship of tenderness, of gentleness and affection, and fidelity and support is a beautiful thing and anyone who would disrespect it is not a kind person," he said.
At one point during his 45-minute appearance, he was questioned by one of the committee members, Liberal Senator Michaelia Cash, as to whether his definition of relationship equality extended to polygamists who may want to marry multiple partners.
"So what would you say to polygamists who are now agitating for the same rights as homosexual couples, 'it's not your time just yet'?" she asked.
He responded that was not the question before the committee, before continuing:
"People like me, who have been in a stable homosexual relationship for 43 years and are denied equality... I rose to be one of the significant judicial citizens of this country, but I was always a second-class citizen."
"I am still a second-class citizen.
"The question for the committee is whether that should be changed."
Mr Kirby appeared alongside former premier and current Labor MP Kristina Keneally, who spoke about how she as a Catholic supported same-sex marriage.
Ms Keneally said her thoughts were heavily influenced by the teachings of the second Vatican council.
"[it] made very clear that Catholics have a responsibility to form their conscience," she said.
"A Catholic who has formed their conscience cannot be compelled to act contrary to it."
The hearing continues.