Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced on December 13 that same-sex marriages will now be treated the same as heterosexual marriages when students are being considered for federal college loan applications.
He said in a statement, “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.”
The Education Department has revised its Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to be more inclusive regarding different kinds of families; thus, the application forms no longer make any distinction between same-sex and cross-sex marriages.
The department also confirmed that eligibility for federal aid does not vary from state to state; a student who applies for a federal loan will be treated the same in regards to their (or their parents’) marital status, be they gay or straight, regardless of the laws in the state where their school is located.
Duncan told the Associated Press, “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 formal announcement of the change went out to colleges and students in a letter from the Department of Education’s assistant secretary for vocational and adult education, Brenda Dann-Messier.
As a federal agency, the Education Department was barred from recognizing same-sex marriages until the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act; the change is just one of the department’s efforts to be as accommodating as it can be to students in same-sex marriages, or parented by a same-sex couple.
Even before the elimination of DOMA, Duncan had directed the department to get the relevant financial information from both of a student’s legal parents, whether or not they were married. The rationale behind the policy was the fact that all co-parenting arrangements involve sharing financial responsibilities for the children, if the parents’ relationship is recognized by the state or not.
The official press release can be read here.