Notes From Babel

eHarmony Settlement in Gay Discrimination Suit

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Eharmony, having been sued under New Jersey’s anti-discrimination laws, has settled a lawsuit and agreed to design a separate site for gay-seeking singles. A copy of the settlement can be found here.

Back in May 2007, the company was sued in California. That lawsuit is moot now that the company has agreed to launch its new site.

As a Californian, I find this a very ironic juxtaposition with Prop 8, which reaffirmed the right of the citizens of this state to refrain from issuing a badge of cultural normalcy to certain lifestyles that do not yet resonate with their sensibilities. [more…]

As long as gays are not treated with hostility, or deprived of useful employment or services because of some invidious, wholly irrational purpose, private companies and individuals must be permitted to make up their own minds and make their own choices. But I see no reason why a dating service, especially one that prides itself on an innovative mechanism for pairing certain types of individuals for life-long relationships, should not be entitled to determine whether or not it wants to monkey with its own system to see if it can work as well for same-sex couples. Eharmony should be permitted to decide for itself whether it wants to make this investment, take this risk, and modify its business and marketing models to provide this entirely new service.

In California, Prop 8 just passed because people felt, just as a matter of knee-jerk reaction, that traditional heterosexual relationships were most conducive for marriage. But in New Jersey, a legal system cajoled a company—whose business it is to study hard, empirical data about relationships and make money off of its ability to achieve consistent success in pairing certain types of people—into experimenting with this model and gambling with its success rate by promoting nontraditional, less studied types of relationships. It makes perfect sense, then, that eHarmony reserved for itself in the settlement the right to display disclaimers that its new “CompatibleCouples” website for gay customers “was developed on the basis of research limited to married heterosexual couples,” given that eHarmony has no idea whether this thing is going to float—a company built on data and research is certainly entitled not to move into new sectors in which there is a dearth of data and research.

Apparently recognizing this, the settlement also requires that eHarmony “enlist the assistance of a media consultant experienced in promoting and ensuring fair, accurate and inclusive representation of gay and lesbian people in the media.” In other words, the settlement itself recognizes that this was not just a matter of discrimination—it is a big, risky undertaking that eHarmony should properly have the discretion to determine for itself and its shareholders.

“Discrimination” is a lost word. It no longer means what it used to mean, and it is no longer appropriate in communicating any serious thought. It now lives in the unscrupulous civil rights attorney’s toolkit.

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Written by Tim Kowal

November 20, 2008 at 7:36 am

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