Matchmaking website eHarmony.com settled a class-action lawsuit Tuesday, agreeing to pay half a million dollars to gay, lesbian and bisexual Californians who were harmed by its decision not to offer same-sex matching services.
eHarmony also agreed to make its website more "welcoming" to those looking for same-sex matches as part of the settlement, though its attorneys had pointed out in court filings that the company "does not stand alone among companies that provide their relationship-matching services to a single sexual orientation."
Sites such as gay.com and guys4men.com exclusively provide same-sex matches, the attorneys noted, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Despite its arguments, eHarmony chose to put an end to two and half years of litigation by agreeing to a settlement, as it had done in 2008, when it agreed to launch a new website that caters to same-sex singles as part of a discrimination settlement with New Jersey's Civil Rights Division.
After three years of court battles in New Jersey, eHarmony attorney Theodore B. Olson said the company chose to settle because of the unpredictable nature of litigation.
Though eHarmony believed that the complaint against it was "an unfair characterization of our business," Olson said it wanted to move "beyond this legal dispute, which has been a burden for the company, and [continue] to advance its business model of serving individuals by helping them find successful, long-term relationships."
When news of the settlement broke out, pro-family conservatives – who had once praised eHarmony's past effort to help create lasting marriages and helped give the site exposure following its initial launch – threatened to encourage singles to use "other dating services that have not sold out their God and their moral beliefs for the almighty dollar."
Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans For Truth about Homosexuality, said it was a "shame" that eHarmony did not choose to follow the lead of the Boy Scouts of America, who were also challenged under New Jersey's "sexual orientation" law but won their case when the state of New Jersey was overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"To those of us in the pro-family movement who hailed eHarmony's commitment to the virtue of traditional marriage, the company's actions are distressing and damaging," added Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
Under the latest settlement, eHarmony is required to display "in a prominent position" its gay and lesbian dating services, which it started offering last spring.
eHarmony's Compatible Partners website, launched in April 2009, will display the eHarmony logo and state that the service is "brought to you by eHarmony" rather than "powered by eHarmony," as it currently states.
eHarmony will also add a "Gay and Lesbian Dating" category to their main website – which will direct users to CompatiblePartners.net – and allow bisexual users to access both websites for one fee. Currently, eHarmony.com has special links to "Christian Dating," "Black Dating," "Jewish Dating," Hispanic Dating," "Senior Dating," and "Local Dating."
Launched in 2000, eHarmony.com was designed to pair up men and women to help create lasting marriages. The website, which utilizes a patented Compatibility Matching System to find compatible long-term relationships, quickly grew to be the Internet's No. 1 trusted relationship services provider and now claims that an average of 236 eHarmony members marry every day in the United States as a result of being matched on the site.
The site was founded by born-again Christian Neil Clark Warren, who worked for 35 years as a clinical psychologist and counseled thousands of married couples.