News from (where else?) California notes that a lesbian, fresh from the break up of her long-standing relationship, has sued the matchmaking company eHarmony.com because it did not allow her to seek another woman as a partner through its services.
The AP reports:
Linda Carlson said she tried to use the Internet site in February to meet a woman but could not based on her sexual orientation. When Carlson wrote to eHarmony to complain, the company refused to change its policy, according to the lawsuit filed on her behalf in Los Angeles County Superior Court.For its part, eHarmony gives a perfectly reasonable explanation for why it is unable to serve gay or lesbian clientele: It is simply not set up for it:
The lawsuit claims that by only offering to find a compatible match for men seeking women or women seeking men, the company was violating state law barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
"Such outright discrimination is hurtful and disappointing for a business open to the public in this day and age," Carlson said in a statement.
"The research that eHarmony has developed, through years of research, to match couples has been based on traits and personality patterns of successful heterosexual marriages," a company statement said. "Nothing precludes us from providing same-sex matching in the future, it's just not a service we offer now based upon the research we have conducted."In a way, Carlson's suit is parallel to a vegetarian suing a butcher shop for not selling tofu. Or an airline for not offering ocean cruises.
More than that, though, Carlson is excruciatingly shortsighted. If she prevails in her suit -- and, given that she filed the suit within the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals geographic reach, she may well do so -- then gay-oriented dating and matchmaking services (like gay.com or myPartnerPerfect.com) will have to accept straight clients on an equal basis with gay clients. That will dilute their purpose and make them less safe and inviting for the very people they are intended to serve.
As legal analyst Walter Olson (who presides at Overlawyered.com) told San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders:
Olson noted that Carlson has "a much better chance with existing dating services." But she is suing, Olson noted, because diversity and tolerance have come to mean, "It's not just that you get the choices you want, but also choices you don't approve of have to be taken away."
And: "Diversity in theory is the enemy of diversity in practice."
This case also has parallels to the Supreme Court's 2000 decision in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale. In the arguments leading up to that ruling, Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty contributed an amicus curiae brief that said, in part:
At bottom, one has to wonder why Linda Carlson would seek to find a partner through an organization that admittedly was ill-prepared to provide the best service for her. Wouldn't it make more sense for her to take advantage of one of the numerous web sites or social clubs that cater specifically to lesbians?
Gay organizations often seek exclusively gay environments. There are exclusively gay social and activity clubs, web sites, retreats, vacations, and alumni and professional organizations. Lesbian organizations and institutions, in particular, often seek to limit membership and participation. Many lesbian bars and clubs bar all men, straight men, or unaccompanied men, and many women's music festivals exclude men. Sometimes organizations have no explicit policy excluding straight people, but their names indicate that they are meant to be gay organizations, e.g. Federal Gay Lesbian or Bisexual Employees. Finally, while many organizations do not insist on an exclusively gay membership, there would be resistance to leadership by heterosexuals. For instance, gay people certainly would not wish to force a group like Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays to accept as a leader someone who was also active in Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays, a group that counsels that gay people should try to become heterosexual.Such threats are far from theoretical; at least one anti-gay group has already sued a gay parade for the right to participate and protest... For gay organizations that wish to keep consistent the ideological perspective of their leaders, and for lesbians and gay men who want to preserve spaces that are exclusively lesbian or gay, a decision in favor of the Boy Scouts will protect their ability to maintain and control their expressive associations. (pages 24-25; numerous footnotes omitted)
Twenty or thirty years ago, when there were limited possibilities for gay men and lesbians seeking social or romantic connections -- that is, before there was an Internet -- Carlson's disappointment at being turned down by eHarmony, and her subsequent reaction, might have made some sense. In today's world of virtually limitless possibilities, her litigiousness raises genuine questions of motive. One doesn't have to be a cynic to see that.
Update: Thanks to GayPatriot and Overlawyered.com for linking to this post!