A couple from New Jersey are suing a political group over a campaign which used their engagement photo, without permission, and in an attack on a state lawmaker who supported a failed equal marriage bill.

The Southern Poverty Law Centre filed the lawsuit on behalf of Brian Edwards, 32, and Tom Privitere, 37, over a photograph taken of them holding hands and kissing, with a New York backdrop.

The copyrighted photograph was used in a campaign by Virginia-based Public Advocate of the United States, deemed a hate group by the SPLC, which attacked State Senator Jean White, a Republican who voted for a civil marriage bill which failed at the state house.

The document, mailed to voters, replaced the Brooklyn Bridge backdrop with snowy trees, and read: “State Senator Jean White’s Idea of ‘Family Values?'”

Mr Edwards said they were suing to “take back the beautiful image in our lives that was reflected in our engagement photo,” reported New York Daily News.

“At one time, it made us happy to look at this photo and see all it represented — love, home, excitement for our upcoming marriage,” Edwards said.

“Tom and I both cringe now when we look at our engagement photo, a photo which will forever live on the internet as a message of hate,” he said.

The photographer who took the photo is a plaintiff in the case, said Christine P. Sun, SPLC deputy legal director. She said they did not know why the group had chosen the image or where they got it.

“They were devastated by the idea that a young person in Colorado could receive this mailer and feel ashamed about his or her sexual orientation,” Ms Sun said.

The case against Public Advocate of the United States alleges that in using the image, the group violated copyright, and misappropriated the couple’s image. They are seeking unspecified monetary damages.

Mr Edwards said the use of the image reminded him of being bullied in his childhood.

Senator White was present at the Denver federal court, where the couple filed their suit. She commented on the matter: “And to say, ‘my idea of family values?’ Well, I tell you, I value all families.”