Gay couple may be 1st for US immigration petition

By Suzette Laboy, Associated Press

July 1, 2013

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (AP) — A Bulgarian graduate student and his American husband are the first gay couple in the U.S. to have their application for immigration benefits approved after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling last week on same-sex marriages, their lawyer said.

The approval means that Traian Popov, here on a student visa, will be able to apply for a green card, and
eventually citizenship. But his marriage to Julian Marsh, performed in New York, still won’t be recognized in Florida, where they live. Last week’s pair of rulings left a patchwork of laws in place across the country regarding gay marriage.

“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 that their green card petition was approved by Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The Department of Homeland Security could not immediately confirm Monday whether this case was the first.
On Wednesday, department Secretary Janet Napolitano said federal officials would implement the decision so all couples would be treated fairly.

Popov and Marsh’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.

Lawyers say the ruling would help same-sex couples who are running out of options or are facing deportations.

“Now all of those cases can go forward in the way they should, with the government respecting the fact that there is a legally recognizable marriage there,” said Laura Lichter, past president of the American
Immigration Lawyers Association.

There are roughly 36,000 couples in the country in which one person is a U.S. citizen and one is not, according to Immigration Equality, a non-profit organization that handles immigration issues for lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender couples.

In the first three days after the Defense of Marriage Act provision was struck down, the group received 1,276 inquiries to its legal hotline — roughly the same number it received in all of 2012.

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 would 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. Six months later, Marsh asked Popov to move in, and by 2012 they were married in New York.

Popov 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. 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 Florida. 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 Marsh and Popov would be able to stay together in the U.S.

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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