Religious Dating Sites Must Accommodate Same-Sex Requests, CA Court Rules
California-based dating sites for religious users including Catholics, Evangelicals, and Seventh Day Adventists must now allow users to search for dates with people of the same sex, according to a lawsuit settled last week that cost the parent company almost half a million dollars.
The religious dating sites include the mobile app CROSSPATHS and the websites ChristianMingle, CatholicMingle, AdventistSinglesConnection, and others. The suit also named non-religious dating sites, including BlackSingles and MilitarySinglesConnection. All are owned by Spark Networks, Inc., located in Los Angeles.
Another religious dating site owned by the the company, JDate, was not affected because it already included same-sex date requests.
According to the Wall Street Journal, two men filed a class action lawsuit against Spark in 2013 under the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act after one of them said he attempted to register with ChristianMingle to find a male date. The site for Evangelical Christians, most of whom believe that same-sex acts are sinful, allowed users to sign in only as “men seeking women” or “women seeking men.” This requirement, the men found, was the same on several of Spark’s sites, both religious and secular.
“Spark has engaged in a systematic and intentional pattern and practice of arbitrary discrimination against gays and lesbians throughout California by denying them full and equal services, accommodations, advantages and privileges in connection with many of its commercial dating services,” the original complaint alleged.
“Gays and lesbians – whose personal characteristics include having relationships with individuals of the same sex – are therefore denied full and equal services,” the complain continued, calling the omission of searches for same-sex dates “arbitrary and intentional.”
According to an overview of Catholic dating sites on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops website on marriage and family, CatholicMingle has about 100,000 users and is aimed at a “broad Catholic audience.” Less explicitly religious than Catholicmatch, at twice that size the largest of Catholic dating sites, it still provides users a religious base lacking in general dating sites, which are based on personality and interest.
The settlement gives Spark two years to redesign the affected sites. Until that time the sites will merely ask users whether they are men or women. Under the terms of the settlement, Spark Networks will also pay the the plaintiffs, Aaron Werner and Richard Wright, $9000 each, and pay their attorneys $450,000.
Originally passed in 1959, the Unruh Act prohibits sex discrimination and has been amended to include sexual orientation. According to the state, “it is an Unruh Act violation for a business to offer special treatment, whether preferential or detrimental, to one class of patrons regardless of the business’ motives for doing so.” Thus, offering a special “ladies night” discount or maintaining a “women or men only” section of or hours for a gym are prohibited in California.
California Superior Court Judge Jane Johnson approved the settlement on June 27th.
The Wall Street Journal quoted a statement by attorney for the plaintiffs Vineet Dubey of Custodio & Dubey LLP, which reads “I am gratified that we were able to work with Spark to help ensure that people can fully participate in all the diverse market places that make our country so special, regardless of their sexual orientation.”
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