The latest change in federal government practice due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last June to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act: students in same-sex marriages will be treated the same as straight married students when it comes to applying for federal financial aid. The change will occur on U.S. Department of Education’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid — which all parents and students know as FAFSA. The application is used to assess a student’s financial resources and need. If a student is married, that assessment can include a partner’s financial status.

Here’s the story from the Associated Press:

By Philip Elliott
Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Students in same-sex marriages will be treated the same as their straight married classmates when it comes to federal college loan applications, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Friday in a shift that reflects this year’s Supreme Court ruling that broadened gay rights.

“We must continue to ensure that every single American is treated equally in the eyes of the law, and this important guidance for students is another step forward in that effort,” Duncan said in a statement.

The Education Department also revised its required Free Application for Federal Student Aid to reflect more inclusive language about students and their parents. The department said it would recognize a student — and parents — as legally married if the couple was legally married in a state that permits same-sex marriages.

The new application forms do not distinguish between gay or straight marriages.

The department also said students’ eligibility for federal aid would be the same in all 50 states, regardless of where the student attends school.

For instance, a same-sex couple from Massachusetts, where gay marriage is legal, would be treated the same as a straight couple if one or both applied for a federal student loan to attend a school in one of the 34 states that do not permit gay marriage. The same standards would apply to parents in same-sex marriages.

“As students fill out their FAFSA this coming year, I’m thrilled they’ll be able to do so in a way that is more fair and just,” Duncan said, using the financial aid application’s acronym.

Before the Supreme Court ruled this summer, the Education Department was bound by the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited all federal agencies from recognizing same-sex marriages. The Clinton-era law defined marriage as between one and one woman and hurt many applicants in same-sex marriages.

Friday’s move is the latest from the Education Department to be more helpful to students in same-sex marriages or with married gay parents.

Even before the ruling, Duncan instructed the department to collect information on both of the student’s legal parents, regardless of marital status. That meant children being raised by unmarried couples — regardless of sexual orientation — would have both adults’ incomes factored into financial aid eligibility.

That was an effort to reflect that same-sex couples share financial responsibilities for children, even if their state does not sanction gay marriages.

  • Mary Ellen McMuldren

    This confuses me as I thought that the college students whose parents were divorced were only including the financial information of one parent.

    • Erin West

      You’re correct!

      The article isn’t super clear, but the bit at the end is in regard to unmarried parents who live together, not parents who are divorced and live apart. They changed the FAFSA for next year (2014-15 academic year) so that both parents’ income could be factored in even if they are not married. For this year and prior, if parents live together but aren’t legally married, the student only needed to list one parent’s income which wasn’t a very accurate picture of their household financial situation.

      For students whose parents are divorced and live apart, they will still only list one parent’s information. Hope that helps to clarify!


Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke is a blogger, reporter and editor for KQED News, responsible for online breaking news coverage of topics ranging from California water issues to the Bay Area's transportation challenges. In a newsroom career that began in Chicago in 1972, Dan has worked as a city and foreign/national editor for The San Francisco Examiner, editor at Wired News, deputy editor at Wired magazine, managing editor at TechTV as well as for several Web startups.

Since joining KQED in 2007, Dan has reported, edited and produced both radio and online features and breaking news pieces. He has shared in two Society of Professional Journalists Norcal Excellence in Journalism awards — for his 2012 reporting on a KQED Science series on water and power in California, and in 2014, for KQED's comprehensive reporting on the south Napa earthquake.

In addition to his 44 years of on-the-job education, Dan is a lifelong student of history and is still pursuing an undergraduate degree.

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