Associated Press | by Ivan Moreno | 09/25/12

Original engagement photo of Brian Edwards and Tom Privitere.

Altered image of Brian Edwards and Tom Privitere used in anti-gay mailers.

DENVER (AP) — A gay couple from New Jersey is suing a group that used their engagement photo in an attack mailer against a Republican Colorado state lawmaker who supported civil unions this year.

The Southern Poverty Law Center said it will file a federal lawsuit against the Virginia-based Public Advocate of the United States on behalf of the couple Wednesday. In the photo, Brian Edwards and Tom Privitere hold hands while facing each other and kissing with a New York City skyline as a backdrop.

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.

Public Advocate of the United States did not respond to two emails seeking comment.

The Southern Poverty Law Center on Tuesday issued a release announcing its plans to take legal action, saying Public Advocate of the United States “used the couple’s personal engagement photo without permission and altered the image to include anti-gay propaganda.”

The law center declined to comment further but said it would issue statements during a news conference Wednesday in front the federal courthouse in Denver. It wasn’t immediately clear what relief the couple is seeking.

Edwards and Privetere didn’t immediately return a message. Law center spokeswoman Apreill Hartsfield said the two also would comment Wednesday.

The photographer who took the photo is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The couple also is suing over a Public Advocate mailer that used the same photo in 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, used the couple’s photo with the caption: “Jeffrey Hare’s vision for Weld County?” Hare also lost his primary.

Civil unions were among the most contentious proposals considered by state lawmakers this year. A bill that would have let Colorado couples enter civil unions passed the Democratic-controlled Senate but was defeated in the Republican-led House with a GOP filibuster. Republicans have a 33-32 advantage in the House, but Democrats said enough GOP lawmakers supported the bill to send it to the governor if there was a full House vote.

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper supported the legislation.

The measure would have granted gay couples rights similar to those of married couples, including letting partners make medical decisions for each other. The protections also would enhance parental and inheritance rights.

Republicans argued gay couples already have some of the rights they are seeking, and said the bill was too similar to traditional marriage.

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