As of today, EHarmony comes out of the closet.
The adamantly heterosexual dating website, which has accepted only male-female couples since its inception in 2000, is launching a gay matchmaking service called Compatible Partners ( www.compatiblepartners.com).
But EHarmony's new relationship with the gay community is more like a shotgun wedding: The company agreed in November to start the dating service as part of a settlement with the New Jersey attorney general in the wake of a discrimination suit.
Dating site consultant Mark Brooks says Compatible Partners will be watched closely.
"This will be one of the most scrutinized products in Internet dating," said Brooks, who hasn't worked for EHarmony. "They will have to introduce an A1 product."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, April 01, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Eharmony: A story in Business on Tuesday about EHarmony's same-sex matchmaking website called Compatible Partners gave an incorrect Web address. The correct address is www.compatiblepartners.net.
It's not a comfortable fit for EHarmony's founder, Neil Clark Warren, who based the original service -- which requires applicants to fill out lengthy questionnaires -- on his own practice as a psychologist.
"It's what I did for 40 years," said Warren, 74, who is retired but remains on the board. "I never had a gay couple."
Warren is the former dean of the psychology graduate school at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. Much of the early promotion of EHarmony was done by well-known figures in the evangelical community, some of whom preach against gay rights.
As part of the settlement, Pasadena-based EHarmony must make a "good-faith commitment" to promoting Compatible Partners. But the company seems as nervous as the groom at a rehearsal dinner, insisting that the only on-the-record interview be with Chief Executive Greg Waldorf. That interview was canceled when the company learned Warren had spoken with The Times.
Brooks thinks Compatible Partners could be a winner.
"Niche products are proving to be very effective," he said. "People are more likely to connect with a brand that serves it, specifically."
Even Warren is finding out that gay couples might not be so different after all. He and his wife are friends with a male couple they met in Maine, where they live most of the year.
"I asked them, 'Are you guys committed?' " Warren said, "and one said yes and the other said, 'I think so.'
"And the first one said, 'You'd better be!' "