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eHarmony Settles
Suit, Agrees to Offer Same-Sex Matching Services

eHarmony Settles
Suit, Agrees to Offer Same-Sex Matching Services

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Three years after a New Jersey resident filed a discrimination suit against Web-based matchmaking service eHarmony.com, the online dating portal has settled out of court and agreed to offer same-sex matchmaking services to members. But will eHarmony really put the work in to serve gay customers and combat criticisms from competitors like Chemistry.com?

Three years after a New Jersey resident filed a discrimination suit against Web-based matchmaking service eHarmony.com, the online dating portal has settled out of court and agreed to offer same-sex matchmaking services to members.

Garden State resident Eric McKinley filed suit against the California-based company in 2005. As part of the settlement, eHarmony agrees to provide new services for members identifying themselves as "male seeking a male" or "female seeking a female" by March 2009.

eHarmony did reserve the right to provide a disclaimer -- that its compatibility-based matching system was developed solely on the basis of researched focused on married heterosexual couples.

"I applaud the decision of eHarmony to settle this case and extend its matching services to those seeking same-sex relationships," New Jersey Division on Civil Rights director J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo said in a statement Wednesday.

eHarmony was one of a few Web-based dating holdouts that had not ventured into the world of offering same-sex dating services. Last year Time magazine named eHarmony one of the five websites to avoid, noting, among other things, its discrimination against gay people.

Frank Mastronuzzi, who worked for Match.com from 2001 to 2004 as the senior manager of business development and now oversees gay dating portal OneGoodLove.com, says Match has always offered same-sex dating services -- but he says he left the company because it refused to spend ad dollars marketing to the gay community.

Around the same time, Match launched Chemistry.com to combat eHarmony, which was increasing in popularity. Though Mastronuzzi says the website is a virtual replica of eHarmony.com once you get past the first page, it gained traction with an ad campaign featuring members who had been rejected by eHarmony -- including a gay man, turned away because the site didn't offer same-sex dating services.

Mastronuzzi says he approached eHarmony about developing a same-sex dating site -- albeit a private-label service with no direct connection to eHarmony.

"I was told point-blank no," Mastronuzzi says.

Neil Clark Warren, Ph.D., who developed eHarmony's matchmaking program, had long rejected the idea of matching same-sex couples -- in part because he said his research was based on heterosexual married couples. He also argued that eHarmony is about marriage and that same-sex couples cannot legally wed in most states.

Clark Warren was also one of the founding members of anti-gay group Focus on the Family.

"I think this is a very good step in the right direction ... to admit they screwed up," Mastronuzzi says. "But what are they going to do differently for the community?"

According to the settlement, McKinley will receive a free one-year subscription to the service. eHarmony agreed to pay McKinley $5,000 and the Division on Civil Rights $50,000 to cover investigation-related administrative costs. (Ross von Metzke, The Advocate)

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