The world’s “largest and fastest growing” Christian-specific dating website will now allow gay and lesbian users to search for same-sex mates, ending a heated legal struggle in which the company was accused of anti-LGBT discrimination.
Last week, the 11-year-old online matching service Christian Mingle announced it will no longer require users to choose between two explicitly heterosexual identities — “men seeking women” or “women seeking men” — while using its platform. People signing up will now only be able to select “man” and “woman,” and the company promised to implement new search tools to make it easier for gays and lesbians to find each other.
The dramatic change is the result of a settlement over a 2013 lawsuit filed against Spark Networks, Christian Mingle’s parent company. Two gay men accused Spark of discriminating against LGBT people by implicitly barring gays and lesbians from using the service and violating California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which requires businesses to provide “full and equal accommodations” to customers irrespective of sexual orientation.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Spark also agreed to pay the two men $468,000 in legal fees and implement the changes for other websites they own, such as CatholicMingle.com, AdventistSinglesConnection.com, and BlackSingles.com.
“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,” Vineet Dubey, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, said.
The settlement is being heralded as a victory for LGBT Christians, an increasingly vocal community within American churches. Several major denominations now ordain openly LGBT people and allow pastors to officiate same-sex weddings, and gay Christians such as Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson have even been invited to pray before events at the White House.
“Like all other companies, we must abide by the laws that govern our state and nation,” Spark Networks CEO Michael Egan told Christianity Today. “There is no greater agenda at hand here at ChristianMingle than uniting Christian men and women for the sake of finding happy and healthy lifelong relationships.”
The news is not sitting well with some conservative Christian groups, however, some of which continue to insist that homosexuality is a sin. Clayton Coates, a Southern Baptist pastor in Dallas, Texas, stepped down from his position on Christian Mingle’s board of advisors following last week’s announcement.
“As I am a Christian, husband, father of six … it hurts my Lord and it hurts my reputation … and the reputation of my church to stay,” he told Christianity today.
Coates reportedly contributed written content for ChristianMingle and its affiliated website Believe.com, where his work “focused on a biblical understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman.”
Yet Coates’ theology is increasingly fringe: a 2015 PRRI poll found that while white evangelical Protestants, black Protestants, and Jehovah’s Witnesses remain staunchly opposed to same-sex marriage, solid majorities of Catholics, mainline Protestants, and Orthodox Christians back the freedom to marry.