eHarmony agrees to same-sex matches

Coming soon to eHarmony — Adam and Steve.

The Pasadena, Calif.-based dating Web site, heavily promoted by Christian evangelical leaders when it was founded, has agreed in a civil rights settlement to give up its heterosexuals-only policy and offer same-sex matches. Started by psychologist Neil Clark Warren, who is known for his mild-mannered television and radio advertisements, eHarmony must not only implement the new policy by March 31, but also give the first 10,000 same-sex registrants a free six-month subscription.

"That was one of the things I asked for," said Eric McKinley, 46, who complained to New Jersey's Division on Civil Rights after being turned down for a subscription in 2005.

The company said that Warren was not giving interviews on the settlement. But attorney Theodore Olson, who issued a statement on its behalf, made clear that the company did not agree to offer gay matches willingly.

"Even through we believed that the complaint resulted from an unfair characterization of our business," Olson said, "we ultimately decided it was best to settle this case with the attorney general since litigation outcomes can be unpredictable."

The settlement, which did not find that eHarmony broke any laws, calls for the company to either offer the gay matches on its current venue or create a new site for them.

Warren had said in past interviews that he didn't want to feature same-sex services on eHarmony — which matches people based on long questionnaires concerning personality traits, relationship history and interests — because he felt he didn't know enough about gay relationships.

McKinley, who works at a nonprofit in New Jersey he didn't want to identify, said that he had originally heard of eHarmony through its radio ads. "You hear these wonderful people saying, 'I met my soul mate on eHarmony.' I thought, I could do that too," he said.

But he couldn't. When he tried to enter the site, the pull-down menus had categories only for a man seeking a woman or a woman seeking a man. "I felt the whole range of emotions," McKinley said. "Anger, that I was a second-class citizen."

But iwnstead of just surfing over to a dating site that admits gay lonely hearts, he contacted the New Jersey civil rights division to file a complaint.

The settlement also calls for eHarmony to pay $50,000 to the state for administrative costs, and $5,000 to McKinley.

But that doesn't mean McKinley will be joining the new eHarmony service, even though the settlement guarantees him a year's free subscription.

"They are going to know my name," McKinley said. "They could be watching my membership."

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