Sunday, April 5, 2009

The eHarmony Case

Some people might be familiar with the fact that eHarmony finally settled the terms of their discrimination lawsuit that they lost recently in the New Jersey courts. Part of the stipulations regarding the loss was that eHarmony was to either open their mother site up to the gay and lesbian minorities or erect a separate website using the same system specifically for the G&L Community. Not surprisingly eHarmony picked the later option and, as of the last day of this March, now has a working eHarmony-like site called Compatible Partners.

I would like to share my opinions and feelings regarding the eHarmony case.

First of all I'd like to acknowledge that despite what some might call a groundbreaking win on the part of the Queer Community regarding the openly Christian based dating site, there's still a great deal of discontent being expressed on both sides of the issue.

For one, there's a lot of suggestion being made by certain people and groups that the founder of eHarmony was perfectly within his rights to exclude certain people who did not mesh with his target consumer base. In this case that base consisted of straight men and women of a certain moral ideal (This might or might not have included individuals who expressed their beliefs to be something other than Christian but who still expressed strong ideals regarding marriage and parenting) that were seeking a successful long term partnerships that would lead (if desired) to marriage.


One of the many supporting arguments to this concept was that eHarmony was not unique in their choice to control their customer base. Among other things the defense for the company sighted that there exist several similar dating services through out the web that cater either non-exclusively to the public (like as well as sites specifically geared only to the GLBT community (such as PinkSofa which is a dating and community site dedicated to the Lesbian community specifically).

That being said the New Jersey courts ultimately struck down this argument in favor of the fact that by operating their web site within the jurisdictional of the State of New Jersey it was proven (according to the courts interpretation of the discrimination laws therein) that the web site eHarmony was in direct violation of the anti-discrimination laws within the state regarding the internet dating service. (Its interesting to note that it took three years for the courts to come to this conclusion.)

My Thoughts:

First I would like to say that I agree with the argument that eHarmony has a right to be exclusive. At its bare bones eHormony is a business whose product is matching compatible people who fit within a certain criteria that mesh with the personal ideal of which the site was founded on. In this case the founder happens to be a Christian man of the Church who wanted to take traditional Christian matchmaking and bring it to the web. Beyond any and all altruistic purposes, its a business.

As a queer woman I would , if money was no object and I wanted to employ a matchmaker to find me a compatible spouse, I would probably seek out a openly gay matchmaker who dealt solely in matching gay couples because this individual would probably be the most knowledgeable of my concerns and most understanding of my lifestyle and beliefs. If only in theory. In my mind this would be comforting to me and make me feel as if my chances of success were better.

All that being said, I also believe that in the eyes of the state court system and in conjunction with current New Jersey laws, eHormony did commit a violation punishable by the laws of that state.

Unfortunately we live in a country where protection from discrimination of any kind is still patchy at best. Therefore it becomes the responsibility of individual States and the people within to file complaints regarding equal accessibility of any business, organization, and/or institution on an individual state basis. While this might not be ideal on the whole it is a necessary reality of the current status quo. The important thing to note is that the New Jersey cases has now set a positive precedence for future cases against eHormony and businesses like it. I've heard a similar lawsuit has now been filed in California.

It might also be interesting to note that in an interview given by Neil Clark Warren, who is the primary founder and spokesman for the site, a few years ago; Warren sighted one of the reasons he excluded the gay and lesbian community from his site was that he didn't want to do something illegal.

Warren sighted that because his matchmaking service was specifically geared towards providing communication between compatible individuals leading to matrimony, he could not ethically cater to the GLBT community from a business standpoint because gay marriage is not legalized in all fifty states. I don't think I need to point out why this particular justification is...Ironic. I will say to Mr. Warren, however, that his argument it was a good try. -smirk- If I were a Christian member of the Clergy who didn't support the concept of homosexuality I might have tried the same line.

Talk about his supposed ethical high ground coming back to bite him. According to the State of New Jersey Mr. Warren's efforts in ensuring that he "didn't break the law" lead him to do just that.


On the flip side of all this several people within the gay community are still outraged by the outcome of the case insisting that, while New Jersey has their hearts and law books mostly in the right place, that the courts should have forced eHarmony to integrate gays and lesbians into the foundation of the original website. Their specific beef is that the current ruling creates an unsavory "Separate but Equal" situation that segregates the queer community unfairly. As a direct result many singles within the queer community say they refuse to use the new website as a matter of principle.

Let me just say right now...That I get it. I do get it but that certainly isn't going to stop me from signing up for the service which I've already done with great anticipation and glee. To those of you who wouldn't do what I'm doing I tip my hat to you respectfully and hope you'll do the same and not label me a traitor.

Personally, I feel that the greatest detriment to the arguably small, but significant, strides made in this case is the Queer community itself.

Before You Stone Me...

Yes, as a minority, we should strive for the highest possible standards that the civil rights of all people could and should afford us. But as a movement that is, for all intents and purposes, still very young in terms of their societal development within this country; I personally feel its a mistake to dismiss such tentative first steps so quickly.


some people might be wondering why I think not supporting the new site is a detriment to people, particularly those single, who are apart of the Queer Community.

For one, let me just point out the strong possibility that the founders of eHormony, and those who support their feelings and moral leanings, would love if Compatible Partners were to fail.

We have to keep in mind that if the company had its way the lawsuit would have never won in the first place and the site, separate or not, would never have been erected. Like it or not this is a win for all of us who want the kind of hope and promise that the concept of a marriage-esque compatible long term partnership affords us. The biggest threat to a tool like Compatible Partners is lack of participation.

What good is a matchmaking service without a pool of people in which to draw from? By boycotting the website simply on principle, the potential pool lessens and those that do decide to join have to worry about negative reactions from within their own lifestyle circle which doesn't help the queer community evolve positively and only perpetuates continued biases within the minority itself.

This can not be a desirable direction to take.

Particularly when you consider that as far as I know, while the stipulations of the New Jersey lawsuit says that eHarmony was required to not only provide a free six month membership to the first 10,000 (I'd have to look to make sure that number is correct) people to sign up but also guarantee to keep the site going for a minimum of five years, the company is not currently being required to advertise the website in any way.

No commercials. Nothing.

The alternative website is not even listed anywhere on the mother site ( despite that the eHarmony label is clearly visible on the Compatible Partners website. If someone finds any reference on the regular eHarmony site, do let me know. So between the fact that its probable to suggest many many people who would otherwise be interested in joining the site wouldn't realize it existed, there's also a whole slew of people within the Queer community bashing the concept all together.

I find this utterly counterproductive to the bigger picture.

On top of all this, people have to remember that even though the founders of eHarmony might have lost the lawsuit in New Jersey, the fact of the matter is that from a business standpoint they're still winning regardless of how any of this pans out.

Yes, eHarmony could very well lose some of their business by being forced to cowtail to the interests of fairness in our society.

From the company's viewpoint they did their duty to the anti-gay Christian community by fighting tooth and nail against the lawsuit and they'll continue to fight it and future ones as long as its socially and morally profitable for them to do so. But no matter how you cut it, the founders of eHarmony might very well grumble about having to cater to the queer community just as surely as they'll smile to themselves as they pocket money they stand to gain from the gays and lesbians outside of that initial 10,000 who will gladly pay through the nose for the promise of being paired with someone else who could very well turn out to be their future long term life mate.

Particularly if Compatible Partners can manage to tot the same success rate they claim on their mother site. -crosses my fingers hopefully for all the single men and women out there who stand to gain-

Regardless of the romantically altruistic intentions of the service itself, whether it eHarmony or Compatible partners, at the end of the day the main goal is and always will be making the green.

And as far as I'm concerned, more power to them for it.

All I know for sure is that if nothing else Compatible Partners is just another potential tool in our ever growing dating arsenal. The way I look at it is that its hard enough to meet women who share my personal relationship ideals and relationship ambitions, that I'm willing to try anything once. Particularly when I'm getting it for free. -wink-

Love it or hate it as you see fit.

Either way, the phenomenon should prove to be interesting.

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