God-loving gay singles have won the right to mingle on the world's most popular Christian dating site — and every other faith-based matchmaking network owned by its parent company, following a California court ruling.
Spark Networks, which owns ChristianMingle, JDate, and LDSSingles.com ("the largest dating site by Mormons for Mormons"), first came under legal fire in 2013 after two gay men noticed that new members could only search for dates of the opposite sex.
In filing a class-action lawsuit, the men alleged that Spark was breaking California anti-discrimination laws by making it impossible for members of the LGBT community to use its services.
Same-sex Christian couples couldn't be matched through ChristianMingle because members couldn't register as gay in the first place.
"Spark has engaged in a systemic 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," reads the class-action complaint filed in December 2013.
As the Wall Street Journal points out, a California state law known as the Unruh Civil Rights Act mandates that "all business establishments of every kind whatsoever" treat every person within the jurisdiction as free and equal regardless of sex, race, religion, marital status and sexual orientation, among other things.
The suit against Spark states that, at the time of its filing, individuals wishing to use the Spark dating sites for Christians, Catholics, Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists, military singles and black singles could only choose from two options on the home screens of these services: "a man seeking a woman" or "a woman seeking a man."
Last week, approximately 2½ years after the lawsuit was originally filed, Judge Jane L. Johnson of the Superior Court of California in Los Angeles County approved a settlement agreement in which Spark agreed to modify its site and search features to include LGBT singles within two years.
The company did not admit to any wrongdoing, but it did agree to pay each plaintiff $9,000 US and cover the $450,000 they had accumulated together in legal fees.
ChristianMingle's homepage now asks users only for their gender. There are currently no options for selecting the desired gender of one's matches throughout the sign-up process, in filling out a profile, or in searching the site for matches once registered.
Under the terms of the court agreement, this will change — though there's a vocal contingent of people online who don't believe it should.
Twitter critics of the court decision are saying that it's the result of a "bully verdict," an assault on religious liberty, or worse.
Others though, are celebrating the move as an act of inclusion for a group that, despite much progress, still faces discrimination and violence on account of who they love.
"I thought ChristianMingle was a website for Christians to mingle," wrote one commenter on a forum post about the ruling. "I guess that's not allowed."
"Of course it is," another person replied. "And now it includes those Christians seeking a same-sex relationship — which many Christian churches approve of."