The Southern Poverty Law Center today filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a photographer and a gay couple whose wedding image was stolen and used in an antigay mailer attacking a Colorado state senator who voted in favor of civil unions. The suit alleges that the Public Advocate of the United States, an SPLC-designated antigay hate group, misappropriated the couple's likeness and personalities, and as a result the couple suffered harm, including mental distress and anguish. The suit also alleges that Public Advocate made unlawful use of an image copyrighted by photographer Kristina Hill.
"This case is about the defilement of a beautiful moment by a group known for demonizing the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community," said Christine P. Sun, SPLC deputy legal director, in a press release. "This was just a cheap way for Public Advocate to avoid having to pay for a stock photo to use in their hateful antigay attack ad. It was nothing short of theft."
The suit alleges the group stole the copyrighted image of Brian Edwards kissing his husband, Tom Privitere, in front of the New York skyline, edited in a background of snowy trees among mountains, and placed a red bar across the image, with wording asking if this was "State Senator Jean White's idea of 'family values?'"
In June, White lost her primary bid for reelection to fellow Republican Randy Baumgardner, a state representative who voted against civil unions legislation last year and the year before. Civil unions are still not available in Colorado.
The couple shared the original engagement photo with family and friends through Edwards's blog, then were notified that it had been stolen and misused by a friend's email.
"I cringe every time I look at what was once one of our favorite photos," Edwards said in the release. "All I see now is the defiled image used to attack our family and our community. All we want is justice for the pain that Public Advocate has caused us."
"We are heartbroken that our images may have been seen by gay and lesbian youth in Colorado and were left feeling ashamed of their sexual orientation because of it," said Privitere. "We hope that this group is held accountable for its reprehensible and hateful antigay attacks.
In its press release, SPLC says it notified Public Advocate that it was investigating the use of the image on the mailer, sent to thousands of Coloradoans. According to SPLC, neither Public Advocate nor its president, Eugene Delgaudio, responded to the letter.