eHarmony criticized for launching gay website
The news came as a shock to many pro-family leaders and attorneys, who expected the well-respected company -- still popular among Christian singles -- to take the matter to court. Those same leaders, though, say the news is another example of how laws protecting homosexuality are incompatible with religious freedom.
eHarmony posted a statement on its website Nov. 19 announcing it had reached a settlement with the New Jersey attorney general, which began looking at the company early in 2005 when a homosexual man filed a complaint with the state alleging that the company's policy of matching only opposite-sex couples violated New Jersey's anti-discrimination law, which covers "sexual orientation."
According to the settlement, eHarmony will launch a new website, CompatiblePartners.net, aimed solely at the homosexual community. As part of the settlement, eHarmony, Inc. will advertise the website in homosexual media outlets, will allow the first 10,000 users to register free and will pay $50,000 to the attorney general's office and $5,000 to the man who filed the initial complaint. It also will post a statement on the new website saying its matchmaking strategy is based on research involving heterosexual couples and not homosexual couples.
eHarmony says it did not violate the law but felt the need to settle the case. It was represented by Theodore B. Olson, who served as solicitor general in President Bush's first term.
The new website's database will remain separate from the original database, removing any chance that a heterosexual single will be matched with a homosexual one.
eHarmony.com was launched in 2000 by psychologist Neil Clark Warren and its first commercials often targeted Christians audiences, particularly on Christian radio. In those beginning years Warren -- seen in the company's TV commercials -- was featured on Focus on the Family's radio programs. He also had three books published by Focus on the Family, although he has since bought the rights to the books. Since its founding, eHarmony has broadened its audience considerably. It cites data and claims that "more than 236 eHarmony members" are married every day in the U.S.
News of the settlement, legal experts say, is further evidence that the cultural, political and legal battle over "gay marriage" and other laws protecting homosexuality is not a "live and let live" issue.
"This situation just demonstrates once again those involved in the homosexual agenda will not tolerate anyone who doesn't embrace their views and promote their ideas," Jim Campbell, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, a religious liberty legal organization, told Baptist Press. ADF was not involved in the suit or settlement. "Unfortunately, in this case, eHarmony surrendered to their demands. We feel they could have had a valid argument and could have taken a stand against this."
In a statement, Olson said eHarmony wanted to keep the matter out of the courts.
"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," Olson said. "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."
The New Jersey attorney general's office in July 2007 had found "probable cause" that eHarmony had violated the state's anti-discrimination law.
But some pro-family leaders, including Americans for Truth President Peter LaBarbera, noted that the Boy Scouts successfully fought New Jersey's anti-discrimination law in a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, criticized eHarmony, saying that "the surest way to lose the culture war is refusing to fight." He called it a "shocking concession" that was "distressing and damaging" and said the settlement was "sending tremors through the faith community."
"Even legal experts on the Left agreed that McKinley didn't have a case since Warren, as the owner of a private company, has a right to keep lawful limits on his clients," Perkins wrote in his daily Washington Update e-mail. "What's worse, there were plenty of ways for the site to resolve the issue and keep its policy intact. For instance, eHarmony could have simply refused to service the state of New Jersey. Instead, Warren conceded significant moral ground, opening the door to a wave of attacks on other dating sites like catholicmatch.com."
Perkins even urged concerned citizens to express their disappointment by e-mailing (customerrelations@eHarmony.com) or calling (1-800-951-2023) eHarmony.
Campbell, the ADF attorney, said the lawsuit and settlement show the dangers of "sexual orientation" anti-discriminations laws, which often are promoted by state and federal lawmakers without any mention of their wide reach.
"Those laws directly conflict in application with religious liberty," Campbell said. "Religious individuals are often forced to abandon their beliefs in the face of these non-discrimination laws."
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.