Since eHarmony’‘s founding in 2000 by Neil Clark Warren, an evangelical Christian who used his research as a psychologist to match couples, the online dating site has not provided services to gays and lesbians. The simple explanation was that Warren knew nothing about gay compatibility, and therefore his research had nothing to offer homosexuals looking for partners.
But as you can imagine, this led to a handful of lawsuits. I tried interviewing Warren last year for Christianity Today regarding the legal challenges. His press people were completely unresponsive and, after weeks of being given the run around, I moved on.
The lawsuits have caught up with eHarmony, and now the organization is about the enter the gay-dating market. As part of a settlement last week with a gay New Jersey man and the state attorney general, eHarmony agreed to set up a Web site that would help gays hook up. Compatible Partners must be live by March. The site will use the same questionnaire based on Warren’s research but will include a disclaimer that, according to the settlement, “lets customers know that eHarmony, Inc. has not conducted research on same-sex couples so that they have the information they need to decide whether to use our service,”
If my fellow evangelicals couldn’t even bring themselves to vote no on Proposition 8, I don’t know how Warren is going to justify this one. Even though eHarmony is technically non-sectarian, it’s history is so richly evangelical that plenty of people will call this move into question. But before any prayer vigils are held, it’s worth reading this criticism of the Compatible Partners plan from ValleyWag:
If anyone shows up that is; eHarmony will give away 10,000 free accounts, but it’s hard to think that a dating service chaired by a conservative Christian will prove much more popular than, say, Manhunt, the gay personals site whose chairman donated to John McCain’s campaign.
The politics of sex aside, the website’s clearly going to suck. This should sound so familiar to people who build websites for a living: A poorly thought-out product, based on insufficient research, rushed out on an artificial deadline. But in this case, it’s the government, not inept managers, who are ordering it up. They’re from the government, and they’re here to help your dating life! If gays can’t get married in California, don’t they at least deserve the benefit of their own pseudoscientifically valid hookups?
I’m not sure how eHarmony’s legal argument would change if they were an overtly religious Web site, if they only offered services to Christians sponsored by an ordained minister, if members had to follow a code of conduct similar to that enforced at Biola University. But that point appears moot.