Julian Marsh and Traian Popov’s love story started like any other – seeing each other at two consecutives parties led to dating and eventually a trip to Brooklyn in October 2012 to get married. But 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 binational 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 Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, a clerk somewhere signed off on their application and changed their lives. In six to nine months, 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 starting 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 a law firm in New York City working to keep binational 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 free of charge and just paid for processing fees.
“They were the ones that guided us, we didn’t know what to do,” Popov 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) the couple ran to the DOMA Project to turn in a copy of their marriage license to start the green card application. 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 domestic partners.
Then, in June, they got word that their green card petition was accepted. 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 binational 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 wants to take advantage of their unexpected fame and use it for good. They’ll be partnering with Equality Florida to spread the word about how gay couples are impacted by immigration issues rocking Congress. Florida’s own Sen. Marco Rubio said he would not support his own immigration bill if gay 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.Christiana Lilly