Tuesday, December 2, 2008

eHarmony turns anti-gay bias into anti-bisexual bias

Feministing and Bi-Furious! recently posted about the out-of-court settlement of a discrimination lawsuit against dating site eHarmony.com. To end a lawsuit under New Jersey's antidiscrimination, the company agreed to start a separate dating site for same-sex couples, to be called "Compatible Partners." The company expressed its expectation that this would also resolve a class action suit against it in California. And that, eHarmony is hoping, is that.

But I'm not so sure that the settlement actually brings eHarmony into compliance with applicable law. Aviva at Bi-Furious! notes that neither eHarmony's existing opposite-sex matching site, nor its planned same-sex matching site, caters to bisexual folks, who would have to join and pay for both sites to take full advantage of eHarmony's matching services.

In general, antidiscrimination statutes prohibit not just the denial of access, but the denial of the full and equal enjoyment of public accommodations on prohibited bases such as sexual orientation. Thus, it's not sufficient that bisexual date-seekers could join either site and be matched with potentially compatible people. Sure, a bisexual person might find a fabulous partner of the same sex on "Compatible Partners" - but they're not really getting the same opportunity to access a relevant dating pool that straight and gay members are getting. Instead, they have to make a choice: pick a gender of partner to seek, or choose to remain open and pay more. As if there weren't enough pressures for bisexuals to "choose"! So while "Compatible Partners" may satisfy the complaints of gay date-seekers, the company running both sites is still discriminating against bisexuals. This is still sexual orientation discrimination, just as opening a service to Black and white folks but not any other folks is race discrimination.

Finally, some have derided this litigation, suggesting that dating sites shouldn't be subject to these kinds of claims. But it's clear that online matching sites of various kinds are public accommodations as defined by most state laws. Similarly, it's established that Roommates.com and Craigslist are covered by the Fair Housing Act. While the site owners are not responsible for the private preferences of their users, they themselves can be sued for discrimination.

Update: The possibility of anti-bisexual discrimination claims against eHarmony and its new site is already the subject of a (fairly deadpan) satirical news report. Because if gays claiming discrimination is funny, bisexuals claiming discrimination is funnier.

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