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Gay couple shocked to find their faces on anti-gay mailer

September 26, 2012|By Tina Susman
  • Pictured couple Brian Edwards and Thomas Privitere have filed a complaint for the unauthorized altering and use of their engagement photo for this political mailer.
Pictured couple Brian Edwards and Thomas Privitere have filed a complaint… (US District Court complaint )

A gay couple who used the romantic backdrop of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan to announce their engagement sued a conservative group Wednesday for altering the picture's background and using the men's image in a mailer targeting Colorado lawmakers who supported civil unions.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed the suit on behalf of the couple, Brian Edwards and Tom Privitere of Montclair, N.J., and the photographer who took their engagement picture two years ago, Kristina Hill. It was filed in federal court in Denver against the Falls Church, Va.-based group Public Advocate of the United States.

Edwards and Privitere did not learn that the picture of them kissing against a fake background of snow-covered trees was circulating among Colorado voters until after the June primary. Two Republican candidates, Jean White and Jeffrey Hare, were targeted in the mailer featuring the doctored photograph.

The mailer targeting White, who had been an incumbent and who had supported legislation in favor of same-sex civil unions, included the words: "State Sen. Jean White's Idea of Family Values?" over the image of Edwards and Privitere leaning in to kiss.

The anti-Hare ad read: "Jeffrey Hare's Vision for Weld County?" over the same image.

Both candidates lost the election.

According to the 13-page complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the original photograph had been featured on Edwards' and Privitere's blog, which they launched in January 2010 "to celebrate their engagement and upcoming marriage," and to easily keep far-flung friends and relatives apprised of their plans. They were married in a civil ceremony in Connecticut on Sept. 7, 2010.

According to the Star-Ledger newspaper, the couple got a phone call from a friend shortly after the June primary telling them their photograph had been used in the Colorado campaign.

“I cringe every time I look at what once was one of our favorite photos,” Edwards said in a statement released Wednesday. “All I see now is the defiled image used to attack our family and our community." 

Christine P. Sun, the deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, called the doctored photo "a cheap way for Public Advocate to avoid having to pay for a stock photo to use in their hateful anti-gay attack ad. It was nothing short of theft.” The lawsuit says the picture was lifted from the couple's blog. It seeks unspecified damages and attorney's fees for Edwards, Privitere and Hill.

Public Advocate's president, Eugene Delgaudio, said he was "looking into this."

The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled Public Advocate of the United States a hate group.

Last July, after Edwards and Privitere learned of the mailers, the Law Center sent a cease-and-desist letter to Public Advocate accusing it of having "spread lies and vitriol about LGBT people." Among other things, it said Public Advocate and Delgaudio had equated same-sex marriage to bestiality and suggested that letting gay men be Boy Scout leaders is “the same as being an accessory to the rape of hundreds of boys.”

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tina.susman@latimes.com

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