South Florida Couple Makes National News and History After Green Card Application Approved
Julian Marsh and Traian Popov say it was fate that brought them together, but it took awhile to give into one another.
Popov laughs when he says he found his husband on an online dating site in early 2011, but was ignored. Then the two ran into each other at two consecutive parties hosted by mutual friends. When they got to talking, the two found that they fell in sync very quickly and instantly felt comfortable with each other. Fast forward a little more than a year and the couple made their relationship official when they married in October 2012 in Brooklyn, New York.
Now, two years after it all started, they're swept up in a whirlwind of history-making and their names splashed in newspapers around the world.
The gay bi-national couple was the first to have their petition for a green card approved without ever first being denied - as has been the case for couples across the country. Just two days after the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, a clerk somewhere signed off on their application and changed their lives. Sometime in early 2014, Marsh - an American citizen - and Popov - a Bulgarian citizen on a student visa - hope to get that green card to keep Popov in the country, just like any other straight couple could.
The day the two received word that their petition was approved, the press started calling their lawyer from the DOMA Project.
"It was unbelievable, I had to create a spreadsheet to keep track," Marsh said. "It was overwhelming and for four solid days it was nonstop. It was hard to contemplate what was going on."
The DOMA Project (DOMAProject.org) is a nonprofit organization headed up by an immigration law firm in New York City, Masliah & Soloway, working to keep bi-national gay couples from being separated. With their marriages only being recognized by some states, many green card applications were being denied right off the bat. However, with optimism that the Supreme Court would overturn DOMA, many were applying for green cards just to get the process started and then appeal any denied applications. Marsh and Popov were taken on as clients pro bono and just paid for processing fees.
"They were the ones that guided us, we didn't know what to do," Popov said.
Through even more serendipity, Equality Florida, a statewide advocacy group, had just launched its Get Engaged campaign the week before the DOMA ruling. With the news of Popov and Marsh spreading, the couple and the group teamed up to further the cause.
"It just so happened that out of all the bi-national couples throughout the country that it was Julian and Tray, who live right here in South Florida," said Sharon Kersten, public relations consultant with Equality Florida and long-time volunteer. "It's like everything aligned to bring us together."
The couple filmed a short video for Get Engaged, holding hands and looking into each other's eyes as they told the story of how they met and what marriage means to them. The campaign encourages other LGBT couples to do the same to spread the word about marriage equality.
"The best way to win marriage equality is through changing hearts and minds, and that's really the purpose of the Get Engaged campaign," Kersten said.
For Marsh and Popov, the decision to get married was not only the next logical step in their relationship, but also to keep Popov in the country when his studies at Nova Southeastern University were completed. After an emotional ceremony at a New York City courthouse - the two ironically lived in the Big Apple at the same time and never met, another sign to them that it was just meant to be - the couple ran to the DOMA Project office to turn in a copy of their marriage license to start the green card application.
Sadly, when they returned home to Broward County, their license was just a piece of paper and the two had to apply to be recognized as a domestic partnership - and it would only be valid in the county.
However, that day in June that no LGBT couple will ever forget, the Supreme Court struck down the section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, stating that it was unconstitutional, and dismissed the challenge to the decision that overturned California's Proposition 8.
"This is obviously a very important day for all of us, a day we have worked for for many years," Lavi Soloway, Popov and Marsh's attorney, said in a video response to the DOMA ruling. "Same-sex couples who are married can file green card petitions and expect them to be approved and those gay and lesbian Americans whose partners are overseas and file fiancé visa petitions can expect to be bringing their fiancés to the United States in a process that will work for them in the same way it works for opposite sex couples on a daily basis.
"It means that the first tangible and palpable result of the Supreme Court decision will be reuniting American families, bringing gay and lesbian people from abroad who have been in exile living outside of the United States with their partners, the couples who are separated."
Two days after the hearing, someone somewhere pulled Popov and Marsh's petition for a green card and approved it. Not only has the press been eager to hear what the couple has to say, but couples locally have been reaching out to them, showing how widespread the strife of bi-national couples is.
"Now they recognize us and they come, let's say in the gym, and people come and they ask us about their own immigration troubles," Popov said. "When they come and talk to you, that's when it hits you. You see these people so many times."
The couple wanted to take advantage of their unexpected fame and use it for good, thus the partnership with Equality Florida. Not only are they a gay couple fighting for their marriage to be recognized nationwide, but they also represent a growing number of bi-national couples struggling to stay together.
"They really serve as models for the fight for marriage equality. There are many issues and we know there is over 1,100 legal protections that are afforded to heterosexual couples that gay couples don't have, and one of the most visible ones here in Florida is with bi-national couples," Kersten said.
Florida's own Sen. Marco Rubio said he would not support his own immigration bill if homosexual couples were included.
"He was killing the whole legislation affecting 11 million people just to victimize 30,000 people," Popov said.
If DOMA weren't overturned, the couple would have been forced to move to Toronto, where their marriage is recognized and where Marsh originally hails from. However, for both of them that would have meant leaving behind decades of memories and stability.
"That's 23 years of my life I'm going to walk away from because I'm gay? Come on," Marsh said.