June 19, 2008 — -- Some businesses still don't cater to homosexuals, ignoring a potentially lucrative source of revenue, says University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee economist Keith A. Bender.
One of the most well-known examples is eHarmony.com, even as California, the country's most populated state, began performing same-sex marriages this week. The online dating Web site bills itself as a provider of what it calls unique measurements for compatibility that, according to a representative, do not cater to same-sex partnering.
"The research is based on six Ph.D. psychologists and 29 variables for compatibility called the compatibility matching system," said David D., an eHarmony representative who refused to give his full name.
The Pasadena, Calif.-based site, which began in 2000, says it serves about 20 million members across the United States, Canada and Australia.
On the sexual orientation issue, "It is false to say eHarmony discriminates against gays or lesbians," the company said in a statement. "Nothing precludes us from providing same-sex matching in the future. It's just not a service we offer now."
The Web site's measurements for matches were developed by Neil Clark Warren, who says that eHarmony is the first online dating service to use relationship science to pair its singles.
Bender, the Wisconsin economist, believes that the Web site eHarmony and other companies could be more profitable if they offered their services to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation.
"These companies are cutting out a certain segment of the population that they could be getting revenue from," Bender said. "Statistics I've heard say that around 10 percent of the population expresses some homosexual tendencies. One way to think about these businesses is that companies like eHarmony could increase their revenues by about 10 percent, assuming that the same rates of homosexuals as heterosexuals would take advantage of these kinds of dating sites."
There are 417,044 pairs of unmarried male partners and 362,823 pairs of unmarried female partners living together in this country, according to a 2006 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau. That does not take into account homosexual singles or married couples.
Robert Lee, the owner and editor of aLoveLinksPlus.com -- a dating service directory -- said that while some dating Web sites explicitly exclude homosexual singles, others do not make their policies as obvious.
"EHarmony.com is a standout," Lee said. "But there are also some smaller niche sites that are only for straights, which are not as vigilant in saying you have to be straight to join."
Some fitness centers, resorts and other services continue to exclude homosexuals as well.
Recent examples include:
In New Mexico, Elaine Huguenin, a professional photographer from Albuquerque, told a lesbian couple in April that she would not photograph them because she only works with straight couples.
In July 2007, Rochester, N.Y., couple Amy and Sarah Monson were refused membership at the Rochester Athletic Club. These two women said that they were in a committed relationship and that they should be allowed to buy a membership.
It took until June 2007 for the University of Virginia to allow same-sex couples to join its gym, according to the Washington Post.
In May 2008, Drs. Christine Brody and Douglas Fenton refused to give infertility treatment to a lesbian couple because of their religious views. One of the patients wanted to be artificially inseminated, and the doctors' refusal led to a case that reached the Supreme Court.
Clinical Coordinator Christopher Johnson of the Gay Men of African Descent advocacy group says these practices are offensive and discriminatory.
"In terms of a social decision, it keeps people who are of the lesbian-gay-transsexual-bisexual community outside of society where they can't connect to one another through those institutions or those businesses," he said.
"That is discrimination. Although society has made some progress, there is still a lot of work to do to make people know that gay people have rights as well. The decision to have people keep us out of their businesses is unconstitutional."
But the legal issues are unresolved, said Emma Dickson, a New York attorney.
"There has been discussion about whether sexual orientation is necessarily included under our civil rights laws," she said. "As we are moving towards recognizing gay rights as civil rights, we could make a parallel between not serving a black person in a diner because of his or her race and not being able to participate in a dating Web site because of one's sexual orientation."