By Alex J Davidson
Originally published on Advocate.com December 16 2013 4:23 PM ET
The Department of Education announced Friday that it will treat all students equally when it comes to determining financial aid for college, ending inequities for children of same-sex parents.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan issued a statement saying that the changes were prompted both by the Supreme Court’s ruling that struck down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, therefore allowing the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages, and the department's desire to have more inclusive policies.
"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. "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."
The information provided by students and parents on the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is used to calculate the student's expected family contribution, which determines the student's eligibility for federal need-based assistance as well as for many state, institutional, and private aid programs.
The changes announced Friday mean that the Education Department will now be looking at the relationship of a child’s same-sex parents collectively, rather than how each parent individually claims to be related to his or her child.
In the past, such a dynamic meant that some students with same-sex parents were able to get more financial aid, since they could only list one parent, thereby making it appear they had access to fewer financial resources. Thus the new arrangement could mean same-sex couples, presumably with more pooled assets, will now have to shoulder a bigger share of their child’s secondary education. This situation is similar to what arises for same-sex couples that file taxes as married partners rather than cohabitating individuals.
Regardless, the changes amount to recognition of same-sex marriages at the federal level.
Duncan’s announcement follows other changes unveiled in April. The department then said that starting with the 2014-2015 FAFSA, it will collect income and other information from both a dependent student’s legal parents regardless of their marital status or gender — if those parents live together.
To aid that effort, the department is eliminating gender-specific terminology on the FAFSA in favor of the terms "Parent 1" and "Parent 2."
Contact reporter Alex Davidson on Twitter at twitter.com/adwildcat