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EHarmony agrees to service gay people, sort of

Online dating service segregates same-sex personals

The evangelical-founded internet dating site eHarmony has agreed to launch a same-sex dating service as part of the settlement of a discrimination action brought against it in 2005.

But the notoriously heterosexual eHarmony site will not allow same-sex searches. Instead people looking for same-sex relationships on eHarmony will be directed to a gay-only site called Compatiblepartners, away from the company’s homepage. Any money users pay to the new site will only enrich an organization with a terrible record of discrimination against gay people.

Eric McKinley, a 46-year-old New Jersey resident who tried to use eHarmony to meet other gay men filed a complaint against the company under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, saying he was refused service because the site caters exclusively to heterosexual people. In 2007 the Division on Civil Rights of New Jersey’s Attorney General’s Office found that eHarmony had violated New Jersey discrimination laws. The case was pending when the settlement was announced.

For years eHarmony has denied gay, lesbian and bisexual people the use of its matchmaking services. Company founder and self-identified evangelical Christian, Neil Clark Warren, claimed in 2005 that because there’s no gay marriage in most US states, the company would not “participate in something that’s illegal.” In a 2007 statement the company claimed the restriction on same-sex services is because the techniques it uses to match couples are based only on research into heterosexual partnerships.

Warren, a clinical psychologist, has ties to the socially conservative group Focus on the Family, which was an active supporter of the recent  Yes on 8 campaign in California that effectively removed same-sex marriage rights in that state.

Under the settlement eHarmony agrees to allow same-sex searches through its personals site by Mar 31, 2009.

But instead of incorporating the option to search for same-sex partners on eHarmony, the company plans to launch Compatiblepartners. The tag line on the site’s placeholder page reads, “The site for long-term committed relationships.” The words “gay” or “same-sex” did not appear anywhere on the site as this story was filed.

In a statement on the settlement eHarmony claims that it must segregate same-sex searchers from opposite-sex searchers for technical reasons.  Each site must, “maintain their own matching pools, registration information and subscriptions. As a result users of the Compatiblepartners site and eHarmony.com cannot be matched with each other,” reads a press release from eHarmony.

James Dean, team leader of programming for Squirt.org, a gay hookup site based in Toronto and operated by Pink Triangle Press, which also publishes Xtra, says there is no technical reason for eHarmony to operate two sites.

“I don’t see any practical reason why they would need to do that,” he says, arguing that sites that allow you to choose which sex you are searching for will automatically return results, “so that when you do a search, you won’t get anyone who isn’t straight,” or isn’t gay depending on your search preferences.

EHarmony’s gay service is to be powered by the same technology used to match potential heterosexual mates, though the company says it is unsure how effectively users will be matched since the program used to find compatible partners is based on what the company calls traditional heterosexual relationships.

The eHarmony service is accessible to users in the US, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.