Civil rights group seeks to sue Colorado pro-gun groups for misusing gay couple's engagement photo

2 Gun groups accused of conspiring with hate group

DENVER - A civil rights organization accuses two Colorado pro-gun groups of conspiring with an "anti-gay hate group" to illegally use a gay couple’s engagement photo for political mailers attacking candidates in the 2012 Colorado Republican primaries.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a motion Wednesday seeking to add the Colorado-based National Association for Gun Rights and the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners to a lawsuit against Virginia-based Public Advocate of the United States.

The plaintiffs also seek to add as defendants Dudley Brown, founder and executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and executive vice president of the National Association for Gun Rights, as well as Lucius O’Dell and Andrew Brown, employees of the National Association for Gun Rights.

The plaintiffs are now accusing Dudley Brown and the gun groups of having a deeper, hands-on role in creating the political mailers that used the gay couple's photo.

Dudley Brown declined comment on the legal action.

The lawsuit was originally filed in Denver federal court in September 2012 on behalf of the gay couple, Brian Edwards and Thomas Privitere of New Jersey, and the photographer Kristina Hill.

The law center accuses the two gun groups and Public Advocate of misappropriating the likeness and personalities of the gay couple. It also alleges that the groups infringed on photographer Kristina Hill’s exclusive right to the copyrighted photo.

The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Public Advocate a hate group, saying it "encourages discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people."

At issue is the defendants' using Edwards' and Privitere's engagement photo without permission. It shows the  two men clasping hands and kissing in front of the New York City skyline.

In political mailers targeting Colorado Republican state Senate candidate Jean White and state House candidate Jeff Hare in the 2012 GOP primaries, the photo was altered to remove the New York skyline and replace with snow-covered evergreens suggesting Colorado.  

"State Senator Jean White's Idea Of 'Family Values?'" read a red highlighted banner across the image of the men kissing in one version of the political mailer.

Both White and Hare lost their GOP primaries.

Dudley Brown proposed the political mailers in an April 2012 email to Public Advocate where he described how “[t]he gay lobby smells blood in the water, and if some pro-gay legislators don’t lose their primaries, I fear Colorado will tumble in the 2013 (legislative) session," according to records subpoenaed by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Brown was apparently making a prescient reference to a proposed civil unions bill, which Democratic lawmakers indeed passed this session and Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law last month.

“What I propose is that PA [Public Advocate] pay for mailing," Brown added in the email. "...My staff and I would do all the work, but we’d want PA to sign off, put its name on the dotted line, and pay for the mailings. I would counsel mailing slick and glossies, with the ‘two men kissing’ photo.”

Last year, Dudley Brown told the Denver Post that his work on the mailers was as a volunteer and had nothing do with his being executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.

"I can volunteer my help on lobbying campaigns for any organization I want, and on any issue I care about," Brown said in an email to the newspaper.

The gay couple has received hate messages since the mailers were produced. Internet postings have said that the couple deserves to go to hell and to be killed, and that any children they may have would be better off dead, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

"It’s shocking that so many groups worked together to defile a photo that meant so much to me," Privitere said in a statement. "I am sickened by this discovery and the depths these groups are willing to sink to attack the gay community. It’s obvious they don’t care who they hurt, just as long as they get their propaganda out."