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October 1, 2012

Civil rights group files federal lawsuit over photos of gay couple

A same-sex couple whose engagement photo was allegedly stolen and widely distributed on anti-gay campaign mailers in Colorado has filed a federal lawsuit against Public Advocate of the United States, a conservative nonprofit organization led by Loudoun County (Virginia) Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a prominent civil rights group, filed the complaint Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Colorado on behalf of Tom Privitere and Brian Edwards, the couple pictured on the campaign fliers sent out by Public Advocate in June, and Kristina Hill, the photographer who made the original image.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for Public Advocate's alleged copyright violation and the use of Privitere and Edwards' likenesses without permission. It also describes the "mental distress and anguish" that the couple has suffered as a result of the alleged theft and misuse of the photograph.

The lawsuit follows a public outcry after news of the campaign mailers first became public in July — the most recent controversy involving Public Advocate, which was designated a hate group by the SPLC earlier this year. The organization, led by Delgaudio (R-Sterling, Va.) since 1981, has a long history of controversial mass mailings, publications and street theater aimed at protesting what Delgaudio calls a "radical homosexual" agenda.

Asked about the pending lawsuit Tuesday, Delgaudio said by email, "I'm looking into that." He declined to comment further and did not respond to for a request for comment Wednesday.

Of more than 1,000 organizations in the United States that are designated as hate groups by the SPLC, Public Advocate is the only one believed to be led by an elected public official, according to officials with the civil rights group.

Christine Sun, deputy legal director for the SPLC, spoke publicly outside the federal courthouse in Denver after the complaint was filed Wednesday morning.

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