OnDating: Gay Man Rejected by eHarmony Wins Lawsuit; Company to Set Up Alternative Site

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 2008

It was the stories that got to Eric McKinley. Stories of happy couples who were totally compatible, completely in love.

"Who wouldn't want that?" McKinley thought when he decided to sign up for eHarmony, hoping to become another swooning success story.

Which is not quite how it turned out.

McKinley is gay, and eHarmony (founded by a conservative Christian) doesn't accept gay and lesbian customers. The rejection led McKinley, of New Jersey, to file a civil rights complaint, which turned into a high-profile lawsuit. Last month, he won.

EHarmony settled the case and agreed to set up an alternative site catering to gay and lesbian clients. Moreover, they pledged to spend big ad dollars promoting the service, called Compatible Partners, and to give the first 10,000 users six months of free membership.

At first blush, it might seem the gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender community would boycott a business that boycotted them for so long. But there's no dominant player among relationship-minded online dating sites for gay and lesbians, so eHarmony might come out the big winner.

"This is going to end up making them a lot of money, and I think they'll be asking themselves why they didn't do this sooner," predicts Joe Tracy, editor of Online Dating Magazine.

There are plenty of GLBT dating sites, and even a few that focus on commitment using compatibility testing, such as OneGoodLove.com, but none with the name recognition or marketing budget of eHarmony. And although Chemistry.com, the relationship-oriented arm of Match.com, does match gay users, it doesn't focus solely on them.

So if the GLBT community forgives or forgets, Compatible Partners (which must launch by March) could have as good a chance as any at becoming its go-to site for online love.

Will McKinley, who is 46 and still single, use the service when it launches early next year?

"I'm not certain," says McKinley, who was awarded $5,000 from the settlement. But of one thing, he does feel sure: "They're gonna make tons and tons of money."

Will you use Compatible Partners? Or have any other D.C. dating tip or rant? Drop us a line: dating@washpost.com.

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