The couple filed a lawsuit in Denver federal court against the group that used the photo without their permission and put it on mailers against a Colorado Republican state lawmaker who supported a failed civil unions bill.
The photo of Brian Edwards, 32, and Tom Privitere, 37, holding hands and kissing with a New York City skyline as a backdrop was on display in front of the courthouse. Edwards said they are suing to "take back the beautiful image in our lives that was reflected in our engagement photo."
The Southern Poverty Law Center filed the lawsuit on behalf of the couple Wednesday against Virginia-based Public Advocate of the United States.
"At one time, it made us happy to look at this photo and see all it represented — love, home, excitement for our upcoming marriage," Edwards said.
Christine P. Sun, SPLC deputy legal director, said they don’t know how Public Advocate obtained the photo or why they picked it. It was posted on Edwards’ personal blog.
The couple said they found out their photo had been used when a friend told them about a story mentioning it in the New York Daily News.
Sun said they’re suing for monetary damages to be determined at trial, misappropriation of the couple’s image and copyright violation. The photographer who took the photo is also a plaintiff in the case.
"They were devastated by the idea that a young person in Colorado could receive this mailer and feel ashamed about his or her sexual orientation," Sun said.
Public Advocate has not commented on the lawsuit through three email requests, including on Wednesday morning. Group president Eugene Delgaudio responded in a brief email Wednesday saying, "I got your note about the story about the report. I am looking into this."
The photo was used in mailers in a June primary election involving Sen. Jean White, one of a handful of Republicans who supported a civil unions bill that was blocked in the state House. The mailer, which replaced the Manhattan skyline with a snowy background, read: "State Senator Jean White’s Idea of ‘Family Values?’"
White lost the primary against a fellow Republican in a northwestern Colorado district. She said she was disgusted the couple’s personal photo was used in an attack that she believes ultimately swayed the race.
"And to say, ‘my idea of family values?’ Well, I tell you, I value all families," said White, who was present with the Edwards and Privitere outside court.
Public Advocate also used the couple’s photo in a mailer that for another northern Colorado state legislative race. That race involved a Republican candidate who was not in the Legislature when civil unions were considered.
The mailer, which changed the New York background to Colorado plains, had the caption: "Jeffrey Hare’s vision for Weld County?" Hare also lost his primary.
Edwards said the use of photo brought back childhood memories of being bullied.
"Tom and I both cringe now when we look at our engagement photo, a photo which will forever live on the internet as a message of hate," he said.