The Christian Mingle Settlement: Using the Law to Reduce Choices in the Marketplace
Stanley Carlson-Thies, July 22, 2016
A group of religious dating sites has agreed to stop restricting users to opposite-sex matches after being charged under California’s Unruh Act that prohibits sexual-orientation discrimination in public accommodations. ChristianMingle.com, CatholicMingle.com, and AdventistSinglesConnection.com are now required to facilitate searches for same-sex partners, whatever the business model of the parent company or the convictions of its owners concerning intimate relationships.
One of the lawyers for the gay men who sued the parent company, Spark, said, “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.”
And yet the outcome of the court settlement is a less diverse marketplace. That’s the astute observation of self-proclaimed “atheist activist” David Smalley. Writing at Patheos.com, Smalley says: “Every atheist, every liberal, and every business owner needs to fight for ChristianMingle’s rights to offer the products or services they choose, even if we disagree with their practices or philosophy behind it all. There are plenty of gay dating websites. Strictly gay. Meaning there’s not an option for me to date someone of the opposite sex on that site. So guess what… I don’t go there. I’m not taking a gay dating website to court, forcing them to allow a straight option. But this ruling sets that precedent.”
In our free marketplace, Smalley says, everyone has the right to jump in and offer a new option if some market niche has been overlooked. But no one should have the right to make the government force an existing business to change its business model to offer something that a customer, but not the business, desires.
The Unruh Act also prohibits religious discrimination in public accommodations. Smalley rightly notes that if his company, Secular Media Group, moved to California, it could be forced, according to the logic of the ChristianMingle case’s judge, to create new lines of products completely against his convictions. The judge could rule that the company “discriminates based on religion, by not offering podcasts or books for potential Christian, Muslim, or Jewish customers”—notwithstanding that the company was created to propagate an atheist perspective.
The marketplace is and should be diverse. Judges should let businesses create dating sites where gays mingle with gays, and also sites where opposite-sex couples can mingle.