Monday, July 25, 2011

Visualising equality

I’ve spent many years working on printed communication, sometimes trying to present an idea, sometimes selling a product or service, whatever. Sometimes combining words and pictures helps me to get a fuller understanding of something.

So I made a couple illustrations to depict the reality of marriage equality in the US now that New York is officially the sixth US state to enact it. The map above depicts Free States, which have marriage equality, those that forbid it (the majority) and those that are somewhere in between (the second biggest group). This sort of map shows up curiosities, like the northern state of Michigan banning marriage equality and the southern state of North Carolina not doing anything at all (yet). California won’t be counted as a free state until its infamous Proposition 8 is overturned one way or another.

The illustration at the bottom of this post looks at this somewhat more symbolically (I got the idea from a similar, less involved illustration I saw several years ago). Taking the stars on the US flag representing the states’ order of admission to the union (moving from upper left to lower right), each state’s star is coloured to indicate how free each state is. White stars, the colour they’re supposed to be, represent states with marriage equality.

This is also, of course, propaganda, especially in how I present these illustrations, describing states with marriage equality as “free states”. One could easily make similar illustrations focusing on any human rights issue as an indicator of relative freedom in those states. In fact, people do that all the time, focusing on issues important to them. It’s also fun and kind of satisfying to use opponents’ words—like freedom—in their proper sense.

In general, this sort of evaluation based on a single issue works best with issues that have two sides, like marriage equality: A state either has full equality, or it doesn’t. Civil Unions, or whatever a state calls them, can never be fully equal to marriage if same-sex couples are barred from marriage. Done well, when they’re “marriage in all but name”, they can be a transitional arrangement on the road to full equality, but they are not full equality.

More complex issues are difficult to illustrate in this way because there are so many variations. For example, look at voting rights: State laws vary widely on how long one must live in the state before being allowed to vote, what forms of ID are required and who can lose their right to vote under what circumstances. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, or that I won’t try in the future, just that it’s not easy.

Making these illustrations was really just something to do on a cold and rainy winter day. I figured I may as well share them. Maybe visualising equality will help make it arrive faster.

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