Refusing to employ its “scientifically”-developed questionnaire to match gay couples, eHarmony was sued in 2008 by the New Jersey attorney general. Discrimination against gays!, they claimed. And that case was followed by a private suit from a California lawyer, which achieved class-action status — and is finally being settled. So what’d we learn from all this?
Straight dating sites can’t discriminate against gays, but gay sites can discriminate against straights. Or something.
Facing pressure from Jersey, eHarmony — created by Dr. Neil Clark Warren — launched CompatiblePartners.net, a benignly named gay matchmaking site for the queers. Warren had claimed that eHarmony’s methods, which match specific personality traits, didn’t work for gay couples, or at least he didn’t have the data on gay relationships to make it work. Meanwhile, he said, “We don’t really want to participate in something that’s illegal.” And that’s where everyone got furious!
Not only did eHarmony’s treatment of the gays open the window for competitors to move in, it also broached a very real-world argument: If state attorneys general are going to force straights-only dating sites to provide services to the gays, is there an impending lawsuit against sites like Gay.com, Manhunt, and adam4adam to let heterosexuals shop for potential mates?
That question remains unresolved. But in settling its class action legal troubles — which were, effectively, calling out the company for violating California law that bars businesses from discriminating based on sexual orientation — eHarmony isn’t just maintaining the new-ish Compatible Partners, but it will also include a “gay dating” link to the site from its eHarmony homepage, the same way it does for its demographic-specific dating sites for blacks, Jews, and Christians. eHarmony, which will admit no wrongdoing, will also set up a $2 million settlement fund, with $500k available to pay out damages to any gay online daters who were, uh, harmed by eHarmony’s original no-gays-allowed policy. (A judge must still approve the settlement.)
We’re still on the fence about all this. Yes, we like laws that bar companies from discriminating against the gays. But what if the company’s very business operates in the arena of sexuality? Of course, this argument can always be made: If eHarmony was for whites-only, would we feel the same way?