Spark Networks Inc., owner of ChristianMingle.com, LDSSingles.com and other faith-based dating websites, will make its services more LGBT-friendly after settling a discrimination lawsuit filed by two gay men.
The dating sites previously “required new users to specify whether they’re a man seeking a woman or a woman seeking a man,” The Wall Street Journal reported. Now, people will simply sign-up as a male or female.
Additionally, “Spark Networks agreed that within two years, it would adjust other searching and profile features to give gay and lesbian singles a more tailored experience,” the article noted.
The lawsuit focused on a California anti-discrimination law. “Known as the Unruh Civil Rights Act, the state law requires ‘business establishments’ to offer ‘full and equal accommodations’ to people regardless of their sexual orientation,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
Spark Networks did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement agreement, but “it did agree to pay each plaintiff $9,000 and cover the $450,000 they had accumulated” in legal fees, CBC News reported.
A representative for the company told The Wall Street Journal that leaders were “pleased to resolve this litigation,” but others are frustrated by the outcome.
“Twitter critics of the court decision are saying that it’s the result of a ‘bully verdict,’ an assault on religious liberty, or worse,” CBC News reported.
The settlement announcement comes at a time when anti-discrimination laws and religious liberty protections are repeatedly coming into conflict, such as on college campuses and in state legislatures.
Christian communities vary widely in their response to gay and lesbian relationships, according to data from Public Religion Research Institute. Fewer than 3 in 10 white evangelical Protestants (26 percent) support same-sex marriage, compared to 69 percent of white mainline Protestants, 58 percent of Catholics and 26 percent of Mormons.
Members of the LGBT community and their supporters celebrated the settlement between Spark Networks and the two gay men, noting that the agreement will make online dating more inclusive.
“I am gratified that we were able to work with Spark to help ensure that people can fully participated in all the diverse market places that make our country so special, regardless of their sexual orientation,” said Vineet Dubey, one of the lead plaintiffs’ attorneys, in a statement to The Wall Street Journal.
Online dating can be a key way for gays and lesbians from small towns to meet each other, as Eliel Cruz explained in Quartz in June 2015.
“Unlike their straight counterparts, LGBT millennials don’t always have the same opportunities for … traditional courtship behaviors,” the article noted. “For LGBT singles in conservative families or communities, online dating may be the only safe way to meet potential suitors.”