eHarmony Goes Gay
The dating site eHarmony is now opening a separate but equal site for gays.
The Pasadena-based dating website, heavily promoted by Christian evangelical leaders when it was founded, has agreed in a civil rights settlement to give up its heterosexuals-only policy and offer same-sex matches.
EHarmony was started by psychologist Neil Clark Warren, who is known for his mild-mannered television and radio advertisements. It must not only implement the new policy by March 31 but also give the first 10,000 same-sex registrants a free six-month subscription.
“That was one of the things I asked for,” said Eric McKinley, 46, who complained to New Jersey’s Division on Civil Rights after being turned down for a subscription in 2005.
The company said that Warren was not giving interviews on the settlement. But attorney Theodore Olson, who issued a statement on the company’s behalf, made clear that it did not agree to offer gay matches willingly. “Even though we believed that the complaint resulted from an unfair characterization of our business,” Olson said, “we ultimately decided it was best to settle this case with the attorney general since litigation outcomes can be unpredictable.”
The settlement, which did not find that EHarmony broke any laws, calls for the company to either offer the gay matches on its current venue or create a new site for them. EHarmony has opted to create a site called Compatiblepartners.net.
McKinley, who works at a nonprofit in New Jersey he declined to identify, said that he had originally heard of EHarmony through its radio ads. “You hear these wonderful people saying, ‘I met my soul mate on EHarmony.’ I thought, I could do that too,” he said. But he couldn’t. When he tried to enter the site, the pull-down menus had categories only for a man seeking a woman or a woman seeking a man. “I felt the whole range of emotions,” McKinley said. “Anger, that I was a second-class citizen.”
One understands eHarmony’s decision here. It’s often been said of lawsuits that “the process is the punishment.” One presumes that, as a private business, they’d be free to decide how to run it and gays are not generally regarded as a protected class. But Olsen’s right: One never knows how these suits will turn out and defending its interests would have cost millions. And winning in New Jersey wouldn’t preclude suits in the other 49 states. Or another suit in New Jersey in the future based on a slightly different legal theory.
Of course, the creation of a separate site for gays — even if it’s absolutely identical — will almost certainly lead to more suits in the future. There’s no shortage of emotional people who feel like “second-class citizens” when confronted by websites that don’t cater to them.
As an aside, despite the framing of the LAT piece excerpted above, eHarmony isn’t a Christian dating site. It does, however, match people for compatibility along a variety of vectors, with religious values high on the list. Warren believes, correctly I think, that compatibility on core values is essential to sustaining a long term relationship.
UPDATE: GayPatriotWest wonders when a Christian will sue JDate, “The Leading Jewish Singles Network,” and Michelle Malkin suggests, “Perhaps heterosexual men and women should start filing lawsuits against gay dating websites and undermine their business. Coerced tolerance and diversity-by-fiat cut both ways.”
I’m not a lawyer but I’m guessing eHarmony’s problem — in addition to the cost issues noted in the original post — is that it’s not explicitly a straight-only or Christian site, thus making it more difficult to argue that being forced to match same-sex couples undermined its mission.