Lawsuit over USANext's AARP ad

The Oregon couple whose picture was used in an anti-gay Social Security smear files a $25 million suit.

By Tim Grieve
Published March 9, 2005 4:57PM (EST)

Remember USANext's smear job on AARP -- the internet-only ad that tried to marginalize the AARP out of the Social Security debate by suggesting that the group has something against American soldiers but loves gay marriage? Rick Raymen and Steve Hansen haven't forgotten. They're the Oregon couple shown kissing in the USANext ad. Today in Washington, they filed a $25 million lawsuit against USANext.

"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," Raymen said in a statement released to the press today. "We have been harassed and humiliated by this hateful ad campaign and by the bigotry and anger it has generated against us nationwide."

In their lawsuit, Raymen and Hansen allege that USANext's use of their photograph -- which was copied without permission from the Portland Tribune -- amounted to an invasion of privacy, a violation of their right to control their own images, libel and the intentional infliction of emotional distress. The suit names as defendants both USANext and the political consulting firm Mark Montini International, which apparently created the ad.

According to the Tribune, Montini may have tried to cover his tracks for using the photo without the paper's permission; after the ad appeared, Montini visited the Tribune's Web site and tried to purchase a similar photograph of Raymen and Hansen. The Tribune stopped him, and Montini sent an email message to the Tribune's photo department in which he said it looked "more and more like we did make a mistake and ran with the ad prior to getting your approval." USANext President Charlie Jarvis apologized to the Tribune for using the photograph without permission -- and blamed the Montini firm for it. "We hired this company to buy commercial rights for anything we use on our Web site," Jarvis told the Tribune. "There will be beatings of a severe nature. In business terms that means fines and penalties. Ill have to go back to the group and find out whats going on."

Jarvis has offered no such apology or explanation to Raymen and Hansen. "They ought to be suing all the left-wing blogs for circulating this [ad]," Jarvis told the Washington Post last week. "That's who they ought to be asking for an apology."

Raymen and Hansen aren't taking that kill-the-messenger approach. Their lawyer, Christopher Wolf, said in a statement that the couple's lawsuit will make USANext and Montini pay for conscripting Raymen and Hansen for their political campaign. Our lawsuit seeks to hold the defendants accountable for taking two private citizens and maliciously making them targets for homophobic bigots," Wolf said. "Our clients did not volunteer to be models in a right-wing hate campaign. There are serious legal consequences for deploying them against their will."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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