Lawsuit forces eHarmony to match homosexual couples


PASADENA, Calif. — eHarmony, an Internet-based match-making Web site, has agreed to create a separate same-sex dating service to settle a New Jersey lawsuit.

The settlement agreement, which requires eHarmony to pay $50,000 to the state for administrative costs, came as a Superior Court judge in San Francisco granted class-action status to a different lawsuit also alleging discrimination.

Eric McKinley, who filed a discrimination complaint against eHarmony three years ago, will get $5,000 under terms of the settlement. The administrative costs will be paid to the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, which agreed to the settlement.

The settlement requires that the new gay site be launched by March 31.

McKinley filed suit after trying to find a mate on the eHarmony Web site, but the draw down menu only offered two options: male seeking female and female seeking male. 

Although visitors to the original site will be able to click on a link to get to the gay site, Compatible Partners, both operations will remain independent.

Theodore Olson, attorney for eHarmony, said the company decided to settle rather than deal with an unknown jury pool.

"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 in a statement.

The site's owner, Neil Clark Warren, an evangelical, had said publicly he did not want to introduce a same-sex site because he was not familiar enough with same-sex relationships. eHarmony became popular with the public because of its emphasis on personality traits.

"It's basically the power of the government being used to force people across the country to accept beliefs that they know are not moral," said Kelly Shackelford, president of the Free Market Foundation and chief counsel of the Liberty Legal Institute. "It's an attack on freedom, and people better get ready to fight."

Alan Chambers, a former homosexual and president of Exodus International, expressed disappointment over the settlement.

"Raising a white flag of surrender over foundational Christian principles cannot be an option when we truly believe that such truths are the gateway to freedom and new life," Chambers said in a news release. "The Bible is clear that homosexual relationships were never part of God's creative design for humanity, nor is it His best plan for individuals. Those of us who have experienced the emptiness of gay life know that promoting it will inevitably lead to more heartache for many."

The California case, filed in March by lesbian Linda Carlson, is using the state's Unruh Civil Rights Act to argue discrimination. That law prohibits businesses from discriminating on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, or medical condition.

"We believe that this case is now essentially moot, and we're confident that we will prove that in court," eHarmony vice president Antone Johnson said in a statement about the California case.

EP News Service contributed to this report