Our love is equal, judge tells his 'husband-in-waiting'

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"I say to you, dearest Shane, I have no doubt our love is equal. Not better. Not worse. But equal.

"And I am proud to call you my husband-in-waiting."

Speaking from the bench was His Honour Paul Higham, newly-appointed judge of the Victorian County Court.

Judge Higham, in an address unlike any previously delivered by a Victorian judge, made clear to the gathering of leading judicial figures and guests that he hoped the "yes" vote in the current plebiscite on same-sex marriage would carry the day.

"So if a certain vote goes a certain way," he said, holding a finger to his lips and uttering a mock "shh" to the guests, as if afraid he might jinx the vote, "We'll be Mister and Mister very soon."

Judge Higham, speaking at his swearing-in ceremony and formal welcome to the County Court in late August, devoted the final minutes of his 40-minute address to his long-time partner, Shane McGowan, who the court's Chief Judge, Peter Kidd, publicly welcomed to the ceremony. Mr McGowan is an internationally recognised illustrator and writer of children's books, who is published under the name Shane McG.

The new judge was at pains to present the pair's long relationship as no different to any other, short of he and Mr McGowan being granted the right to marry in Australia.

"We met 29 years ago," Judge Higham said of Mr McGowan.

"There have been ups and downs, of course, but we are still together.

"Over that time, he has quite simply put up with me. The endless, endless conversations about my cases. The me, me, me-ism of the needful corporate barrister. The last-minute enforced holiday cancellation when a case overruns.

"We have been around the world, we have had fun, we have also stayed at home, and - there's a confession here - watching Midsomer Murders. It doesn't get more normal than that, ladies and gentlemen."

Judge Higham, his voice catching, also spoke of their daughter, Evie, who died, aged 11, in 2010.

"We've known the joy of parenthood," he said.

"We've known the horror of the loss of that child and consequent unspeakable grief."

He said he still spoke to Evie every day, and "I speak her name so she lives on".

It was, said Judge Higham, a loss revisited last year when Mr McGowan's sister died.

Judge Higham said one of his proudest moments was in 2004, when Mr McGowan's nieces and nephews formally asked to be allowed to call him [Mr Higham] "uncle".

Referring to Mr McGowan, Judge Higham said, "I have watched him throughout, seen him grow and demonstrate constant dignity and wisdom and strength.

"He has been my stability."

And addressing Mr McGowan directly, the judge spoke of the abiding importance of their relationship.

"You have calmed me and you are my best friend and literally my other half," he said

"We fit."

Judge Higham has let it be known he will be making no further public statements about his private life during his period on the bench.

He was a leading barrister in London, working in criminal defence and ancillary human rights and gained a national reputation in the field of historic abuse, before moving to Australia with Mr McGowan in 2004.

Mr Higham and Mr McGowan met in London in 1988. Mr McGowan, who lived and worked in England for many years, was born in Melbourne and moved to London in the mid-1980s. The couple decided to settle in Australia so Mr McGowan could be close to his family.

Mr Higham became an Australian citizen in 2008.

While in England, he was a founding member of the Bar Lesbian and Gay group, which received the official endorsement of the British Bar Council.

He was admitted to the Victorian Bar in 2007, and has appeared in a range of high-profile cases on matters including terrorism, rape, attempted murder, taxation fraud and drug importation.

Judge Higham's appointment to the County Court, announced in August, fills a vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Roy Punshon.

This story Our love is equal, judge tells his 'husband-in-waiting' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.