Internet Dating Websites and Institutional Diversity:

David's post about the ill-advised lawsuit against E-Harmony for failing to provide options for same-sex dating is another example of the conflict between diversity within institutions and diversity across institutions. If the plaintiff gets her way, E-Harmony and other dating services will have to cater to both homosexual and heterosexual daters. By the same logic, J-Date will have to cater to gentiles as much as Jews, and so on. And of course gay dating websites would have to work to facilitate heterosexual dating as well.

This result would greatly undercut the advantages of specialization and diversity. It would lead to the homogenization of dating websites, as all would have to cater to all groups equally. No site would be able to specialize in serving the distinctive needs of any one group, whether that group be gays, Jews, or evangelical Christians. Basic economics - and basic common sense - suggest that members of all these groups can benefit from diversity and specialization across dating websites. While many of the individual sites may have a very homogenous clientele that effectively "excludes" various groups, there is enormous diversity in the dating website market as a whole; that diversity is of course partly the result of the homogeneity of individual sites. And for those who do not want to limit their dating to a particular group, there are numerous generalist dating websites, such as

If the suit succeeds, dating websites could try to mitigate the harm it causes by providing only pro forma equality to those groups they don't really want to cater too. For example, J-Date allows non-Jews to join on the same formal terms as Jews; but obviously the site is much less useful to those seeking gentile mates than those seeking Jewish ones, and it has many features that cater to the specific interests of Jews (e.g. - allowing participants to indicate which Jewish denomination they belong to, but not providing the same options for adherents of other religions). This kind of approach presumably would not satisfy the E-Harmony plaintiff. After all, E-Harmony already permits gays to join on the same formal terms as heterosexuals. It's just that the service it offers (the opportunity to date members of the opposite sex) has much less value for gays than for heterosexuals.

UPDATE: I should have noted that this case also has an interesting federalism angle. Since the case involves only California antidiscrimination law, not federal, a victory for the plaintiff technically would only affect people in that state. But because of California's obvious importance as a major market, a win for the plaintiff might well compel dating websites to alter the services they provide nationwide. The only alternatives would be to 1) create a separate and more "inclusive" site for California residents alone, or 2) refrain from offering services to California residents entirely. This dilemma is an example of the broader problems caused by states regulating commerce in ways that have major effects outside their own borders. A well-functioning system of federalism must constrain state governments, not just the feds. For a more detailed discussion, see this article.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Trivializing antidiscrimination law:
  2. Internet Dating Websites and Institutional Diversity:
  3. Eharmony Sue for Sexual Orientation Discrimination: