Last week, after the landmark overturning of the DOMA, immigration officials were instructed to wait until Monday before approving green cards—America's elusive "permanent residency" visa—for eligible foreign-born spouses of gay Americans. But halfway through Friday afternoon, one USCIS officer was too excited to wait: he hit "approve" on Bulgarian Traian Popov's application, and made Popov—with his husband Julian Marsh—the first gay couple to be approved for a permanent resident visa.
Popov, 41, has been living in the United States for 15 years using back-to-back student visas: he's completed three master's degrees, and is in the midst of a doctorate. He married Florida-born Marsh in New York last year. Their lawyer, Lavi Soloway, was forwarded the visa notification e-mail during a legal conference, and promptly burst into tears. "I thought: Am I reading this wrong?" Soloway told The New York Times.
The couple was celebrating Marsh's 55th birthday when they received the e-mail—the first of its kind.
"The amazing, overwhelming fact is that the government said yes," Marsh told the Times, "and my husband and I can live in the country we chose, and love, and want to stay in." (Popov also noted that he was particularly pleased he could finally stop being a student.)
More foreign-born spouses in gay marriages should be able to immediately claim benefits in states where same-sex marriage is legal, and now run far less risk of sudden deportation—which, prior to last week, was not an uncommon scenario.
Now that DOMA is overthrown, the Department of Homeland Security says it will quickly move to ensure that all same-sex marriage could maintain the same immigration rights as heterosexual ones. In other words: lawful spouses of American citizens, gay or straight, can apply for green cards, and are given more leeway to remain in the country without one.
Gaining equal immigration rights is quickly becoming another milestone for gay couples, but marital rights are another story. Since same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in Florida, Popov and Marsh will not be granted the same benefits as opposite-sex couples in their home state. The couple will actively campaign for change in that field.
“We are first-class citizens in New York and in the eyes of the federal government, but second-class citizens in Florida,” Marsh said. “We won’t stand for that.”
(Image: The DOMA Project)