After a three-year legal battle, the dating site ChristianMingle.com and several other religiously affiliated dating services will now facilitate matches between same-sex partners. In a judge-ordered settlement, Spark Networks, the company that owns ChristianMingle as well as sites like CatholicMingle.com, AdventistSinglesConnection.com and BlackSingles.com, agreed to change its options for users — "man seeking woman" and "woman seeking man" — because they violated California's Unruh Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Spark will change its front page options to ask for users' gender only, and not their sexual orientation. But the question remains: Will LGBTQ people of faith actually feel the need to use a site that only seems to be accepting them begrudgingly?
With the rise of community-specific online dating services, queer people of faith have largely been excluded from more "mainstream" Christian sites like ChristianMingle or eHarmony (which created a separate service, Compatible Partners, in lieu of creating an option for gay and lesbian singles on the original site). That means those who hope to find a partner online have had to look elsewhere, from Tinder to Grindr to okCupid.
While non-religious dating sites or apps might well be LGBTQ-friendly, finding a match as a Christian can be quite a feat. First and foremost, queer Christians aren't exactly a massive population.
"It is difficult for LGBT Christians who are looking to date other Christians — specifically other Christians who are looking to date Christians of the same sex — because it's just difficult to find those people," Justin Lee, executive director of the Gay Christian Network, a support community for LGBT Christians, said by phone on Tuesday. "You're talking about a minority within a minority."
Even when LGBTQ Christians are open to dating outside the limited dating pool of other queer believers, there's the looming prospect of rejection on the basis of faith. Two of the key parts of queer Christian identity — faith and sexuality — are frequently framed as being in opposition to each other, for reasons that aren't entirely unfounded: Spark Network's exclusion of same-sex users is merely one example of churches' longstanding discrimination against LGBTQ people.
That can raise questions — specifically in the not-super-comfortable context of a first date or message on an app — about how queer Christians are able to reconcile their beliefs with their sexuality, according to Philip Graves, a 23-year-old student from Washington state.
"Society has conditioned us to see a queer Christian as an oxymoron, and trying to fight to prove that we exist is something you have to do continually, especially in the online dating world," Graves said by phone on Tuesday.
Graves, who identifies as a pansexual Christian, said he's been rejected on a number of dating apps for reasons having to do with some aspect of his beliefs or sexual fluidity, which can get disparaging fast. While he's found queer-affirming religious communities that encourage him to practice his beliefs without condemnation, he's found himself routinely having to explain how he's bridged the perceived gap between his faith and sexuality.
"You feel hopeless very quickly when you get messages from straight women saying they won't date you because you're bisexual, or messages from gay men saying they won't date you because you're a Christian," he said. "You want to find someone who values and embraces all parts of you, especially something as integral as faith."
LGBTQ Christians might know better than anyone that queerness and faithfulness aren't incompatible, but still they're often left straddling two communities that have distinct norms, particularly when it comes to dating. As Lee put it, a gay-friendly app with a hookup-heavy reputation, like Grindr, isn't likely to appeal to, say, a gay Christian guy.
"It can be difficult when the assumption is this is where all gay men meet, and yet it's all kind of built around one-night stands," Lee said. "I think one of the nice things about sites that cater more to Christians, is there are certain assumptions going in about shared values that don't exist other places."
But those spaces are the ones that haven't been open to queer Christians until now. As a result, it can still be a huge hurdle to find a relationship in the face of discrimination and exclusion, according to Rev. John Russell Stanger, a gay Presbyterian pastor from Texas.
"[Before I met my partner], I remember the tension of people bringing up [my faith] even if it had been addressed online ... [and] not wanting to bring it up because I don't want them to think it's all I can talk about," Stanger said by phone on Tuesday. "There's a need to address this elephant in the room without seeming like it's the only thing in the room."
That's why sites like Christian Gays, which offers dating services specifically for LGBTQ people of faith, can be so helpful; additionally, organizations like the GCN tend to facilitate same-sex romances simply by offering a community for believers who are queer. Still, they don't offer all that's out there.
"I genuinely want to find someone who loves Jesus and who I can share my life with, but it's so difficult when there's that tension between those two communities," Jessica Wickens, a gay minister from Canada, said by phone on Tuesday. "Obviously Christian Mingle wasn't my first spot to go because I knew it was for men searching for women and women searching for men."
Wickens said she's connected with a number of queer Christians through GCN, but still wants to be proactive as she looks for a romantic relationship with a woman of faith. Right now her preferred way of meeting people is Tinder, but "it's not very often I come across someone who shares my belief system." In that respect, having one more door opened — even if by a court order — could be a blessing.