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$25 Million Lawsuit against right wing group using a gay Portland couples wedding photo

Rick Raymen and Steve Hansen were tired of seeing their wedding photo used in an anti-gay political attack ad. The couple from Portland, Ore., said they didn't give permission to the creator of the ad to use their image, and their request to stop using it has been ignored, so on Wednesday they filed a $25 million lawsuit in federal court.

The suit targets USA Next and its political consulting firm for allegedly stealing the photo from the Web site of the Portland Herald newspaper.

"Our privacy and personal integrity were violated when our wedding photo was stolen and used to portray us as treasonous, unpatriotic and a threat to American troops," Rick Raymen said in a press release. "We have been harassed and humiliated by this hateful ad campaign and by the bigotry and anger it has generated against us nationwide."

USA Next is an offshoot group of the United Seniors Association, which is led by former television personality Art Linkletter. USA Next has endorsed President Bush's plan to privatize Social Security. The attack ad featuring Raymen and Hansen is aimed at a rival senior advocacy group, the American Association for Retired People (AARP), which opposes the privatization plan.

The ad places the photo of Raymen and Hansen alongside a photo of a soldier and the caption, "The REAL AARP Agenda." USA Next claims AARP is anti-military and favors gay marriage. AARP, in fact, has not taken a stance on military issues or gay rights.

Christopher Wolf, an attorney representing Raymen and Hansen, wrote a letter to USA Next chairman and CEO Charles Jarvis on Feb. 28, demanding an immediate stop to use of the photo and a public apology.

USA Next refused to apologize or to even respond to the letter, according to a spokesman for the couple. So on Wednesday Wolf filed a four-part lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C. The suit alleges the use of the photo without the couple's permission amounts to an invasion of privacy, libel, violation of the couple's right of publicity and an intentional infliction of emotional distress.

According to the Associated Press, Jarvis said Wednesday that he believed the rights to the photograph had been obtained properly when he put up the ad.

Rebekah Kassell, spokeswoman for the gay rights group Basic Rights Oregon, called it "despicable" and "un-American" to use an innocent gay couple in a smear campaign. She told the PlanetOut Network this incident is indicative of a growing, disturbing trend to use LGBT people as "political pawns."

"For God's sake this is a wedding photo, taken on what was probably one of the best days of this couple's life together," she said. "It was used in such an insidious way. And I think it happens very often that photos taken in moments of pride and celebration are distorted and misused and sensationalized in a way that takes any sort of meaning out of it and creates a negative image."

Simultaneously with the filing of the complaint, Wolf filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction against USA Next and its ad agency to get them to stop using the photo.
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