Gay couple may be 1st to win green-card petition

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - A Bulgarian graduate student and his American husband are the first gay couple in the nation to have their green card petition approved after the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriages, their lawyer says.

But Traian Popov, here on a student visa, won't be able to work or visit his family back home for at least another six months while his green card can be processed. And his marriage to Julian Marsh, performed in New York, still won't be recognized in Florida where they live.

"It's unbelievable how that impacts you," Marsh told The Associated Press on Sunday. "They make you feel more and more like a second-class citizen and they don't want you. And that's how I feel about Florida."

Two days after the Supreme Court struck down a provision of a federal law denying federal benefits to married gay couples, Marsh and Popov were notified Friday afternoon that their green card petition was approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security could not immediately confirm Monday whether this case was the first. But the couple's lawyer, Lavi Soloway of The DOMA Project, says his organization has filed about 100 green-card petitions for same-sex couples since 2010 and expects more to be approved in the next few days.

The Supreme Court ruling is clear for same-sex couples who live in the 13 states that allow same-sex marriages, but for couples like Marsh and Popov who traveled to another state to get married, the latest victory for marriage equality is bittersweet.

"We would like our marriage to be recognized even in a state where it wasn't performed in," Popov said. "We want civil recognition."

Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2008 banning same-sex marriages, and it will take approval from 60 percent of voters to overturn it if the issue is put on the ballot again.

The couple said they met in 2011 at a friend's party and began dating shortly after.

"We just really liked each other and I knew this was the man I wanted to be with," Marsh said. Six months after, exactly to the day, he asked Popov to move in and by 2012 they were married in in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Popov, who is studying for a master's degree in social sciences, was able to remain in the U.S. as long as he was enrolled in school. When he graduated, though, he would have had to leave the country if DOMA was not struck down.

"I wanted to stay with him forever in the country that we chose to be in," Marsh said. And the pair began planning their next move — both have a European background and Marsh is also a Canadian citizen.

But the couple wanted to stay in Fort Lauderdale, where they live with their two Yorkshire terriers. So they reached out to The DOMA Project, which works to stop deportations and separations of gay couples caused by the Defense of Marriage Act.

"I started crying," said attorney and DOMA Project co-founder Lavi Soloway of when he found out that not only DOMA was overturned, but that Marsh and Popov would be able to stay together in the U.S. He said he was working to help dozens of other couples facing similar separations.

Popov said the couple feels they've been vindicated.

"It's still overwhelming, and we would like to make a difference in Florida," Marsh said.

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