US dating website eHarmony agrees to cater for gays and lesbians

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American dating website eHarmony has settled a three-year lawsuit by agreeing to become more “welcoming” to gays and lesbians.

The site, which prides itself on tailored partner recommendations, was subject to a class action lawsuit brought by around 130 gay and lesbian plaintiffs from California who said they had been discriminated against by the site not offering same-sex services.

eHarmony claims to use scientific methods to ensure user are matched with a compatible partner and is widely advertised on Christian websites. It offers services including ‘black dating’, ‘Jewish dating’ and ‘Christian dating’.

In 2008, as a reaction to the dispute, it set up Compatible Partners, a sister website for gay and lesbians. However lawyers for the plaintiffs said this was a “separate but equal” policy and was not adequate.

This week, the company agreed to provide a link to Compatible Partners from the eHarmony main page and add ‘man seeking man’ and ‘woman seeking woman’ to the homepage’s drop-down menu.

It also agreed to display the eHarmony logo on Compatible Partners, along with text saying the site is “brought to you by eHarmony”, rather than “powered by eHarmony”.

Bisexual people will be allowed to pay a single subscription fee to be matched with both men and women.

eHarmony did not admit wrongdoing or liability in the settlement.

Lawyer for the plaintiffs, Todd Schneider, told California Progress Report: “We are delighted that eHarmony has chosen to make its remarkable technology available to the gay and lesbian community in a way that is welcoming and inclusive.”

eHarmony’s lawyer Theodore B Olson said the company believed the complaints were “unfair” but wanted to move beyond the lengthy dispute.

The company must also pay out $500,000, to be shared between the 130 plaintiffs who can prove they were harmed by the policy.

eHarmony was founded by Dr. Neil Clark Warren, a clinical psychologist and conservative Christian. In 2008, he argued he was not interested in gay business because gay marriage was “illegal”.

Warren has been criticised by other religious conservatives for ‘selling out’ his faith.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said: “To those of us in the pro-family movement who hailed eHarmony’s commitment to the virtue of traditional marriage, the company’s actions are distressing and damaging.”

The settlement must be approved by a judge next month.