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No Online Dating for Gays & Lesbians?

David Cassel: eHarmony, the major online dating service with ties to Focus On The Family's James Dobson, is sued for discriminating against sexual orientation.
 
 
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This post, written by David Cassel, originally appeared on TECH.BLORGE.com

There's a web site that helps you find love, marriage, and cozy long walks on a beach. But not if you're gay.

Yesterday a lawsuit charged that eHarmony's "heterosexuals only" policy was illegal discrimination.

The lawsuit revives a controversy that's plagued eHarmony for years. More than two years ago, USA Today alluded to the company's conspicuous caveat in a fascinating profile of the site's founder -- 72-year-old Neil Clark Warren. ("He's like the grandpa who wants to set you up," an analyst tells the newspaper.) But the article also quoted a gay New York psychiatrist who believed that "From a corporate perspective, eHarmony does discriminate. There's clearly a deliberate desire to exclude gay people from the site."

The company says it determines compatibility for its subscribers using research based on marriages -- which, unfortunately, were not the same-sex kind. A Wikipedia entry raises questions about this explanation, however, and notes the company has ties to conservative political activist James Dobson.

Seizing the opportunity, a rival site launched Friday catering exclusively to gay men. (It's called myPartnerPerfect.com, and offers its males-only service for just $37.95 a month, or $204 for a year).

But surprisingly, eHarmony had just prevailed in an earlier lawsuit yesterday. A man sued when his membership was declined because he was "legally separated" from his wife. (Technically, eHarmony felt, the man was still legally married to his wife.) And in April the company also faced complaints that they were rejecting men who weren't tall enough.

Friday news of the lawsuit hit the Associated Press wire service, appearing in hundreds of newspapers across America. eHarmony issued a carefully-worded statement in the story, which they apparently hope will defuse the controversy. They announced that "Nothing precludes us from providing same-sex matching in the future."

eHarmony isn't saying that they will. They're just saying that they can.

David Cassel is a technology writer living in Silicon Valley. He first went online in 1990, and has covered emerging technologies for groundbreaking sites like Wired News, Salon, and Suck.

 
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