Injustices and Anachronisms

A couple of weeks ago I was thinking happily about the fact that my kids will never know a time before marriage equality in the country that they’re growing up in. The US Supreme Court struck down bans on same-sex partners marrying less than a month before they were born. There was some talk of constitutional amendments to restore the discrimination in the aftermath of the ruling but that’s largely subsided.

Outside of the United States this is still a live issue. My kids are Australian and Swiss too. After a problematic plebiscite Australia recognized marriage equality in 2017. Switzerland doesn’t allow same-sex marriage but polls show heavy support and I expect the law will change before my kids are aware.

My kids will probably grow up seeing “other”, “backwards”, “bad places” that are stuck in the past. I don’t expect Saudi Arabia or Uganda to make this kind of progress before my kids are aware of the legal and cultural difference around the world. They’ll probably see that there’s something wrong with those societies. I hope they don’t think that the problem lies in the people there or the religions they follow, but that there’s some social block preventing their inevitable progress towards modernity and civility.

Then I realized that this is how I feel about capital punishment in the United States.

Growing up in Australia capital punishment was a part of history lessons not civics lessons. We learned that Ronald Ryan was the last man hanged. In 1967 the country was changing: there were protests against the war in Vietnam, metric currency and measures were being adopted, feminism and indigenous rights movements were becoming visible. The end of capital punishment was a part of that – part of the country growing up and becoming a modern civilized democracy.

Now I’ve found myself living in a country where capital punishment is seen as an injustice by many, as racist, ineffective and expensive by others. But for me it’s more than that – it’s an anachronism. It’s as far in the past and as settled a question as segregated lunch counters. Just thinking about it turns my stomach.

As a child I didn’t think that restricting marriage to being between men and women was an injustice – I just didn’t think about it. As I grew up and found gay friends and family members struggling with discrimination it became pretty clear pretty quickly that restrictions are on peoples right to marry and have a family based on their sexuality was both nonsensical and damaging to the lives of people who I cared about.

Will my children have to learn that capital punishment is an injustice?