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Gay Couple's Green Card Victory Activates Florida's Same-Sex Marriage Supporters

Christine Dimattei

 Julian Marsh and Traian “Tray” Popov have two computers in the office of their Fort Lauderdale home.  But when the couple shows off their wedding photos, they use the desktop with the bigger screen.

"I think we both said that was absolutely the most special moment EVER in our lives," says Marsh.

They’ve been married less than a year.  And like many newlyweds, they admit they were so nervous during the ceremony that some of it is a blur. 

Together, they poke fun at the dorky matching shirts they bought for the occasion.

“Of course, we had to buy them on sale because we don't have that much money,” says Marsh.

“We’re not fancy people,” laughs Popov.

But the photograph of their marriage certificate hits a sore spot.  It reads, “The City of New York.  Office of the City Clerk.”

“Isn’t that sad?” asks Marsh.

The marriage license they brought home from Brooklyn holds no weight in Florida, where same-sex unions are not recognized.  But just last month, 55-year-old Marsh and his 41-year-old Bulgarian-born husband got a phone call that put them in the history books.  Their attorney called to tell them they were the first binational, same-sex couple to have their green card petition approved.

The news came just two days after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that denies same-sex married couples federal benefits.

This ended a stressful period for the couple, who might have had to leave the country once Popov’s student visa expired.  But the victory was bittersweet.  Marsh says he and Popov are still considered "second-class citizens" in Florida.  And if they weren't activists before, they will be from now on.

"We will be part of a movement to make sure that our marriage is valid in Florida," says Marsh.

Meanwhile, other same-sex marriage advocates statewide are vowing to do the same. 

Vanessa Brito is chairperson of Miami-based Equal Marriage Florida.  The group started a petition drive to get a marriage equality amendment on the 2014 state ballot.   Brito says the Supreme Court's decision provides the momentum needed to overturn Florida's gay-marriage ban.

"It's been on every television and in every living room of America.  Not just the gay and lesbian living room,” says Brito.

In 2008, a majority of Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union only between one man and one woman.  Jannique Stewart was South Florida spokeswoman for the campaign that pushed for the same-sex marriage ban.  She says voters have already spoken loud and clear on the issue.

"I still believe that people will understand that there is significant difference between a homosexual union and a heterosexual union,” says Stewart.  “And that they're not equal in terms of the very nature of the relationship."

Gay marriage advocates are exploring other options to get the ban overturned.  Alternatives include asking the Florida Legislature to intervene or taking the issue directly to the courts.

Meanwhile, Julian Marsh and Tray Popov say they've been inundated with messages of support.  But Marsh says there was one that absolutely floored them:

"I got message from a straight couple, who sent a picture of themselves.  A husband, a wife, a child and a pet.  Just saying, 'We're standing right behind you  and we understand that what you want is no different than what we have.'  That was it."

Years ago, after racking her brains trying to find a fun, engaging, creative night gig to subsidize her acting habit, Chris decided to ride her commercial voiceover experience into the fast-paced world of radio broadcasting. She started out with traffic reporting, moved on to news -- and never looked back. Since then, Chris has worked in newsrooms throughout South Florida, producing stories for radio broadcasts and the web.