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Law & Order tackles gay marriage

The wife & I greatly prefer Criminal Intent, but we occasionally watch the original Law & Order with its "ripped from the headlines" episodes. I'm not sure if last night's episode really falls into the headlines category, but it did touch on more than a few current events. For those who didn't see it, here is the basic premise:

Wife of governor is killed at a fundraiser luncheon. Police discover that governor is unethically favoring one company for government contracts. Police find out that the owner of said company is gay and is blackmailing his brother-in-law who has cooked the books for said company. Police talk to owner's boyfriend, find out he is sleeping with the governor. Boyfriend tells police company owner admitted to killing the wife because she was going to go public with the gay affair and the governor would have to resign and the company owner would lose his lucrative government contracts. District attorney tries to get boyfriend to testify, but the couple had gotten married in a small town in up-state New York and conversation falls under marital privilege. DA gets all the marriages overturned but spouse/boyfriend refuses to testify because of it. Company owner cops a plea and goes to jail.

All in all, it wasn't a bad episode. However, I did have some problems with it. First, the assistant DA's are set against each other as to how to proceed with the case. The younger, female ADA (Serena) basically gives up on the case after learning the couple got married, while the older, male ADA (Jack) is willing to challenge the marriages in order to get the conviction. Serena opposes Jack's challenge to the marriages because she thinks it will "set gay rights back 20 years" and thinks that limiting the marital privilege to heterosexual couples is based solely on prejudice and being "captive to the religious right." She even accuses Jack of letting the "nuns get into his head." The implications are quite obvious: no right-thinking individual could ever be opposed to gay marriage on strictly rational grounds. Such opposition could only spring from prejudice & ignorance based on homophobia and religious indoctrination. The show seemed to portray Serena's attitude in a positive light and easily took for granted that the gay marriages should be considered valid. Serena also questioned Jack's negative assessment of the governor's moral sense - a man married for 19 years with 2 children who had an affair. Serena seemed to think there was nothing really wrong with this since he was just being "true to himself" and Jack's view was not adequately explored. At one point they also compared the gay-marriage campaign to the civil rights movement of the 60's.

The second thing I disliked had more to do with characterization than the plot itself. Jack is normally very rigid on the law, and while he is aggressive, he respects legal dictates and understands that the system will sometimes allow a criminal to go free in order to protect the rights of the rest of us. But in this episode, he is portayed as coldly opportunistic, looking for every underhanded trick he can think of to get this gay man convicted. Serena's stance that the gay marriages shouldn't be challenged is favored, while Jack is accused of homophobia and ignorance. While he ultimately succeeds in getting the marriages overturned, the boyfriend/spouse refuses to testify stating that "we will not be treated like second-class citizens." This statement goes unchallenged and the show took zero time to explore the reasons why people are opposed to gay marriage, for both religious and non-religious reasons.

I realize this is not a political show and isn't meant to be a forum for social debate, but this was so subtely biased that I'm afraid this is the kind of stuff that will inform many people's thoughts. For an issue like this, we can't allow the debate to rely on facile arguments & prejudice of any kind.


Benedict Seraphim said...

My wife and I are L&0 fanatics: the original, CI, and SVU. I tend to gravitate toward the original, though my wife and I like CI quite a bit (I'm a bit of a D'Onofrio fan).

Your impressions of Wed's episode match my own. Having been a long-time viewer of the show, however, this is not the first time this sort of dynamic and characterization have come to the fore.

I know that such shows are in production long before airing, but did you find it interesting that the episdoe aired when it did, eight days after the election and after all the leftward pundits got to opine on "Jesusland"?

Karl Thienes said...

A woman in her late 20's who goes to our parish was college roomates and friends with Elizabeth Rohm (sp?)--the actress who plays Serena on L&O.

My friend says that Elizabeth in real life is very similiar to her character on L&O in terms of personality and POV on issues....

FWIW....And the wife and I also like the show.