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EHarmony to offer same-sex dating service

To settle a civil rights complaint, the website gives up its policy of heterosexuals only.

November 20, 2008|David Colker | Colker is a Times staff writer.

Coming soon to EHarmony: Adam and Steve.

The Pasadena-based dating website, heavily promoted by Christian evangelical leaders when it was founded, has agreed in a civil rights settlement to give up its heterosexuals-only policy and offer same-sex matches.

EHarmony -- known for the mild-mannered television and radio advertisements by its founder, psychologist Neil Clark Warren -- not only must implement the new policy by March 31 but also must give the first 10,000 same-sex registrants a free six-month subscription.

"That was one of the things I asked for," said Eric McKinley, 46, who complained to New Jersey's Division on Civil Rights, part of the state's attorney general's office, after being turned down for a subscription in 2005.

The company said that Warren wasn't giving interviews on the settlement. But attorney Theodore Olson, who issued a statement on EHarmony's behalf, made clear that the company didn't agree to offer gay matches willingly.

"Even though we believed that the complaint resulted from an unfair characterization of our business," Olson said, "we ultimately decided it was best to settle this case with the attorney general since litigation outcomes can be unpredictable."

The settlement, which didn't find that EHarmony broke any laws, called for the company to either offer the gay matches on its current venue or create a new site for them. EHarmony has opted to create a site called Compatible Partners ( www.compatiblepartners.net).

Warren had said in past interviews that he didn't want to feature same-sex services on EHarmony -- which matches people based on long questionnaires concerning personality traits, relationship history and interests -- because he felt he didn't know enough about gay relationships.

McKinley, who works at a nonprofit in New Jersey that he declined to identify, said that he had originally heard of EHarmony through its radio ads.

"You hear these wonderful people saying, 'I met my soul mate on EHarmony,' " McKinley said. "I thought I could do that too."

But he couldn't. When he tried to enter the site, the pull-down menus had categories only for a man seeking a woman or a woman seeking a man. "I felt the whole range of emotions -- anger, that I was a second-class citizen," McKinley said.

The settlement also calls for EHarmony to pay $50,000 to the state for administrative costs and $5,000 to McKinley.

McKinley hasn't found the man of his dreams yet. And though EHarmony has to offer him a year's free subscription on the new service as part of the settlement, McKinley isn't sure he'll take the company up on it.

"They are going to know my name," McKinley said. "They could be watching my membership."

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david.colker@latimes.com

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