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The Gods of Retail: eHarmony

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Online dating even your Sunday-school teacher could love.

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With more than 20 million users, eHarmony is the kind of online dating site even your mother would love: Relentlessly marriage-focused, wholesome as milk, and powered by a top-secret algorithm that eliminates 20% of all those who attempt to join as "undesirable."

But the founder of eHarmony, Neil Clark Warren, is an evangelical Christian - and the site was first promoted as one "based on the Christian principles of Focus on the Family author Dr. Neil Clark Warren." For the uninitiated, Focus on the Family is a hard-right faith-based organization with a disturbing (if often comical) allergy to gay men and lesbians. It's perhaps unsurprising, then, that eHarmony has a strictly-no-homosexuals policy on its flagship site.

Focus on the Family's James Dobson -- on whose radio show Warren was once a not-infrequent guest -- has said that gay marriage "will destroy the earth." To keep that from happening, Focus on the Family has devoted itself to thinking about nothing but gay sex - who's having it, and where, and in what positions - and how it might be stopped.

To that end, it brought us the truly surreal No Moo Lies campaign, which used a basset hound named Sherman to inform us that: "Dogs aren't born mooing... But are people born gay? The best research says no. Even respected scientists -- several of whom are gay -- acknowledge this."

While the idea that there might indeed be gay scientists is horrifying, one can be certain that none were employed in the development of eHarmony's patented matchmaking algorithm. In a section of its FAQ that has since been deleted, eHarmony offered the following explanation:

"eHarmony does not offer same sex matching services. We're sorry if the placement of recent advertising led you to believe that we offer this service.

"...Based on over 35 years of clinical practice and empirical study, eHarmony has discovered what similarities and differences between men and women lead to their most successful unions. This unprecedented research into compatibility has been conducted with the goal of lowering the rate of unsuccessful marriages and divorce by providing singles with a tool for finding truly compatible matches with whom to pursue a relationship.

"With this goal in mind, eHarmony's research has only examined heterosexual relationships."

In other words, the site refused to admit homosexuals because 1. The algorithm was based solely on heterosexual data, and therefore had no relevance to the strange twilight world of the homosexual; and 2. Since there's no such thing as gay marriage, there's no such thing as gay matching.

Warren took this argument one step further: He contended that, since same-sex marriage is illegal in most states -- and "we wouldn't want to participate in something that's illegal" -- allowing gay people to join would make eHarmony something like the Bonnie to their Clyde.

The courts didn't buy it: In November 2008, eHarmony settled a New Jersey lawsuit brought on anti-discrimination grounds; under the terms of the settlement, eHarmony will be required to provide its matchmaking services to gay men and lesbians.

While separate but equal might not fly in the schools, it's apparently a-ok in the world of online dating: The new site, to be called "Compatible Partners," will be kept separate from the eHarmony brand.

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