01/31/2013 12:45 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Law & Order: SVU Tackles Gay-on-Gay Hate Crimes

"Criminal Hatred" was a strong episode blending serious, cutting-edge issues like gay-on-gay hate crimes with the sparkling entertainment provided by dressing up the detectives to infiltrate gay bars and strip clubs.


A handsome young man is luring rich, closeted gay men to hotel rooms, where he ties them up, beats them, sodomizes them and steals their valuables. The victims, all hoping to keep their secret lives secret, refuse to talk to SVU's detectives. What are the police to do? Swathe Ice-T and Nick in their best Banana Republic and send them out as bait in a gay bar called Hotmale (what else?). This gambit doesn't work (did anyone think it would?), but it did provide some fine eye candy.

Meanwhile, another man becomes a victim -- and dies because of his weak heart. Using actual police methods like talking to witnesses and tracing stolen credit cards, our good detectives soon find the apparent murderer: a blond male stripper with the appropriately soft-core-porn name of Jeremy Jones.

They interrogate to Jones's partner, Clark, who thinks Jones gets his money from women as gifts. When the detectives show Clark that Jones been shagging other men, Clark tells them that Jones came home the night of the murder all shaky, saying, "Something bad happened."

Bingo! But before the detectives can close the case and go to happy hour, Nia Vardalos, of My Big Fat Greek Wedding-fame, busts into the interrogation room. "I'm Mr. Jones' lawyer," she says, "And I'm representing Mr. Clark, too."

Nick could tell her that an attorney can't represent both a suspect and a witness -- that's a clear conflict of interest. Instead, he says, "Clark already gave a voluntary statement."

"You can't use it," says Nia, "Spouses can't testify to what their spouse said in confidence. Clark is his husband."

The plot thickens! Barba tries to challenge the validity of the marriage -- it took place in Massachusetts, before NY recognized same-sex marriages, by a bartender ordained through the online "Church of Happy Skies." But the judge finds the marriage valid and rules that the prosecution can't use Clark's statement.

Thereupon, more glittery strip clubs are visited. A few minor plot points are ascertained, but mostly, let's admit it, this was about SVU doing a little Magic Mike. (And I loved Ice pulling Amanda from watching the chaps-shaking male strippers, and Amanda rolling her eyes as a pleather-bikini-clad female stripper sidled up to Ice and murmured, "Hi Detective Tutuola, I like your new haircut.").

In the end, ADA Barba drops the (fairly solid) murder charge, arguing, "All the jury will see is gay sex games," and instead brings a (very dubious) hate-crime charge, noting that Jones only attacked fellow gay men. Okaaaay.

At trial, Barba argues that there were Jews in the American Nazi party. Nia retorts that you shouldn't be able to prosecute someone just for what they think.

The closeted victims all testify (while their horrified wives watch) about Jones' pattern of seduction and attack. Then Jones himself takes the stand and is cool enough to convince at least a few jurors that he's innocent. Except for a minor charge of false imprisonment, the jury hangs and a mistrial is declared.

But Olivia doesn't give up. She makes Clark meet the dead man's tearful wife -- and shows him that the engraved bracelet Jones gave him on the night of the murder was actually a present the dead man intended to give his wife. Clark sobs and turns over the incriminating bracelet.

The detectives then arrests Jones, who spews anti-gay and anti-female epithets as he's being led away in handcuffs.

"He doesn't just hate gays," Olivia muses. "He hates everyone."

"No," Barba replies. "He hates himself."

Verdict: B+

What they got right:

This story riffed on a true gay-on-gay hate crime case. In Boston last February, three lesbians were charged with a hate crime for beating up gay man. Since then, folks have been debating whether hate-crime laws are meant to extend this far. Tonight's episode raised similar questions.

Under Barba's interpretation, is every rapist committing a hate crime unless he rapes both men and women? Many feminists and anti-rape groups argue that every rape -- inescapably tied to the victim's gender -- is a hate crime.

People with secrets are always vulnerable to predators. Slate recently ran a fascinating story about a vicious extortion ring that preyed on gay men in the 1960s.

The issue of whether the spousal privilege would apply in this case was an interesting one, and they got the law right. Spouses in New York cannot testify to a confidential communication from their spouse (in D.C., by contrast, the testifying spouse may decide whether or not s/he wishes to testify). The idea behind the marital privilege is that it strengthens the marital bond.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in New York, and although Jones and Clark were married in Massachusetts, NY recognizes marriages in other states. The timing was interesting -- with the Massachusetts marriage happening before NY legalized it -- but I think the judge decided correctly that NY would retroactively recognize the past ceremony. I thought the best shot Barba had was the online "church," but I guess Happy Skies had all their papers in order. I also thought Barba and Olivia's interaction on this was realistic. Although Olivia was leery of infringing on gay rights, Barba is the type of pit bull who would try any possible legal argument to nab a killer, larger policy considerations be damned.

What they got wrong:

Barba's logic tonight was incomprehensible. The murder charge was the strongest one he had. Even if the jurors surmised the other victims were just enjoying "kinky sex games," here was a corpse to disprove that. The hate-crime charge against an openly gay man, on the other hand, was such a big stretch. Homicide would be both easier to prove and carry a longer sentence.

Finally, I had laugh at the undercover work. SVU is always sending its detectives out as bait. A couple seasons ago, there was a hair-cutting fetishist loose in the city -- so SVU sent Olivia to sit flipping her hair on a park bench, and the barber showed up a few minutes later, shears in hand. Last season, there was a rapist targeting blond women -- so they sent golden-haired Amanda running through the park, where the rapist immediately popped out from behind a bush and attempted to rape her. Tonight's strategy -- of sending Nick and Ice-T into the gay bars hoping the bad guy would strike up a conversation -- was just silly. Not that they wouldn't get propositioned. They'd do great at Hotmale. But crime is far to random and sporadic to make this method feasible. That said... it did make for some fun TV.

What do you think SVU fans? Should gay defendants ever be charged under hate-crime laws? Is Barba smoking pot? And how plausible was Ice-T in his gay undercover mode? Leave your comments!