Nearly three years after two gay men filed a class-action lawsuit against Christian dating website ChristianMingle.com, the Los Angeles-based company has agreed to let its members seek out same-sex partners, reports The Wall Street Journal.
Although a California judge determined the site's straight-only formatting violated the state's Unruh Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, the company behind ChristianMingle did not admit any wrongdoing.
The judgement, finalized Monday by Judge Jane L. Johnson of the Superior Court of California in Los Angeles County, ordered Spark Networks to do away with settings on all its sites that only allow users to select "man seeking woman" or vice versa.
Spark Networks is the parent company of more than a dozen other dating sites that match people based on faith practices, age, or race, including CatholicMingle.com, LDSSingles.com, BlackSingles.com, and SilverSingles.com. The company first entered the online dating business with Jewish dating site JDate.com, though that property was not impacted by the judge's order. A spokesperson for Spark Networks told the Wall Street Journal that the company was "pleased to resolve this litigation."
For the next two years, "Spark will ensure that the 'man seeking woman' and 'woman seeking man' options on the gateway/home pages of the Mingle sites ask only whether the user is a 'man' or a 'woman,'" reads the judgment. The company was further ordered not to change the match prompts to "man seeking woman" at any time in the future, unless it also "provides similar prompts which allow individuals seeking a same sex match to enter and use the sites without having to state that they are seeking a match with someone of the opposite sex."
"As long as Spark operates the Mingle Sites, users will continue to have the ability to search for potential same sex matches using the sites' text searching and profile building functions," summarizes the order. The company has 24 months from the date of Monday's order to bring all its sites into compliance.
The judge also ordered Spark to pay $9,000 to each of the two plaintiffs who brought the suit, in addition to covering the full $450,000 in attorneys fees incurred by the gay men.
Vineet Dubey, one of the attorneys for the two named plaintiffs, expressed gratitude for the case's resolution. "I am gratified that we were able to work with Spark to help ensure that people can fully participate in all the diverse market places that make our country so special, regardless of their sexual orientation," Dubey said in a statement.
While ChristianMingle's home page currently asks only for the member's binary gender (male or female), a search of the site's "help" page at press time for the words "gay," "same-sex," "lesbian," or "bisexual" all returned no results.
Although some sects of Christianity maintain strong anti-LGBT doctrine, many Christian faith communities welcome LGBT people, and there's no shortage of high-profile Christians who are also LGBT.
Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Mary Lambert has made no secret of her religious upbringing, and her emotional work often explores her journey back to her faith as an out lesbian. Similarly, Matthew Vines is making waves in the evangelical Christian community with "The Reformation Project," a campaign that bills itself as "a Bible-based, Gospel-centered approach to LGBT inclusion." Vines, who is himself a gay Christian, rose to prominence in 2012 when a video of him outlining a scriptural defense of monogamous, Christ-centered same-sex relationships titled "The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality" went viral. Last year, he publishedGod and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships.
And while anti-LGBT politicians and pundits often use so-called religious freedom as a sword to strike down LGBT-inclusive policies, Georgia's Republican Gov. Nathan Deal earlier this year vetoed a sweeping "religious freedom" bill that opponents said would act as a "license to discriminate" against LGBT people, saying it did not reflect his Christian values.