Internet dating service eHarmony has officially agreed to begin matching homosexual couples, beginning next year.
The popular California-based service has been known for focusing on long-term relationships, especially marriage, which has been said to align with founder Clark Warren's early work with Focus on the Family's evangelical Christian base and perspective.
Warren, a psychologist with a divinity degree, has had three of his 10 books on love and dating published by Focus on the Family. It was an appearance on James Dobson's radio program, in 2001, that triggered a response of 90,000 new referrals to the website, starting a climb of registered participants on the site from 4,000 to today's 20 million clients.
As WND reported, the company originally said it was " based on the Christian principles of Focus on the Family author Dr. Neil Clark Warren." It stood firm on its decision to reject homosexuals from its profiling and matching services. Its entire compatibility system is based on research of married heterosexual couples.
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In 2005, Warren told USA Today the company's goal is marriage and that same-sex marriage is illegal in most states.
"We don't really want to participate in something that's illegal," he said.
Warren began to disassociate himself with Dobson that year to shed the company's association with Focus on the Family. He said he would no longer appear on Dobson's radio show, and he bought the rights to books he had published through Focus on the Family and removed the name from their covers.
"Dr. Warren and I have been friends for many years," Dr. Dobson said in a statement. "He has been on Focus on the Family radio nine times, and we published six of his books. We helped publicize eHarmony.com, and yet, Dr. Warren recently said in an L.A. Times article that his association with us is 'the kiss of death.' I'm sorry he feels that way. He's a good man."
The two agreed to go their separate ways.
Now eHarmony has been compelled to changed its nationwide policy toward homosexuals as part of a New Jersey lawsuit settlement.
On March 14, 2005, Eric McKinley filed a lawsuit against eHarmony, claiming the company discriminated against him when it refused to accept his advertisement for a "gay" partner.
McKinley's complaint triggered a state investigation into the dating service.
Last week, eHarmony agreed to begin providing an eHarmony-affiliated "Compatible Partners" service to gays and lesbians, with listings labeled "male seeking male" and "female seeking female" by March 31, 2009.
For complying, the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights has dismissed the complaint against eHarmony, and Warren is considered "absolved of liability." Also, the dating site has been ordered to pay the division $50,000 for investigation-related administrative costs and give McKinley $5,000. It has agreed to provide a free one-year membership to its "gay" service to McKinley, plus free six-month memberships to "the first 10,000 users registering for same-sex matching within one year of the initiation on the same-sex matching service," according to the settlement.
A new release by New Jersey's Office of the Attorney General reveals that eHarmony has also agreed to the following terms:
- eHarmony, Inc. will post photos of same-sex couples in the "Diversity" section of its website as successful relationships are created using the company's same-sex matching service. In addition, eHarmony, Inc. will include photos of same-sex couples, as well as individual same-sex users, in advertising materials used to promote its same-sex matching services
- eHarmony, Inc. will revise anti-discrimination statements placed on company websites, in company handbooks and other company publications to make plain that it does not discriminate on the basis of "sexual orientation"
- The company has committed to advertising and public relations/ marketing dedicated to its same-sex matching service and will retain a media consultant experienced in promoting the "fair, accurate and inclusive" representation of gay and lesbian people in the media to determine the most effective way of reaching the gay and lesbian communities.
eHarmony's new logo for homosexual dating service
In addition to McKinley's complaint, a California lesbian also filed a lawsuit against the company in May 2007.
Linda Carlson submitted her complaint to Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation. Lawyers have attempted to turn it into a class-action lawsuit on behalf of homosexuals who wanted to use eHarmony's services.
Carlson's lawyer told Reuters the complaint was "about changing the landscape and making a statement out there that gay people, just like heterosexuals, have the right and desire to meet other people with whom they can fall in love."
Antone Johnson, vice president of legal affairs at eHarmony, said the new settlement could compel California complainants to drop their lawsuit.
"We believe that this case is now essentially moot, and we're confident that we will prove that in court," Johnson said. "Now that we're entering the same-sex matching market, we fail to see what the Carlson plaintiffs could achieve through further litigation."
Former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, outside counsel to the company, said, "Even though we believed that the complaint resulted from an unfair characterization of our business, we ultimately decided it was best to settle this case with the Attorney General since litigation outcomes can be unpredictable. eHarmony looks forward to moving beyond this legal dispute, which has been a burden for the company, and continuing to advance its business model of serving individuals by helping them find successful, long-term relationships."
An attorney for eHarmony told WND legal battles required a great deal of effort and resources from the dating organization.
"The company spent three years defending against this proceeding," he said. "It was a burden in terms of the high costs of litigation and the time and resources management devoted to it."
Note: A list of contact information for eHarmony can be found here.