Education Dept. announces marriage equality for student aid program

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The U.S. Education Department released new guidance on aid review.

As part of the U.S. government's ongoing efforts to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling against Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor, the Education Department on Dec. 13 announced new guidance on the use of “marriage” and “spouse” in the federal student aid programs, including on the completion of the FAFSA, the federal student aid form.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down the part of DOMA that banned the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, resulting in the withholding of more than 1,100 rights and benefts.

Now the Education Department will recognize a student or a parent as legally married if the couple was married in any jurisdiction that recognizes the marriage, regardless of whether the marriage is between a couple of the same sex or opposite sex, and regardless of where the student or couple lives or the student is attending school. This guidance impacts all questions concerning marriage and marital status on the FAFSA.

Before the court's ruling, the Education Department had interpreted all provisions of Title IV of the Higher Education Act – which authorizes the federal student aid programs – consistent with Section 3 of DOMA, which prohibited all federal agencies from recognizing same-sex marriages. This meant that while a student under 24 who was married to an opposite sex spouse was considered independent for financial aid purposes, that same student would have been considered dependent if he or she was married to a same-sex spouse because the marriage was not previously recognized. In Windsor, the Supreme Court held that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional because it violates the principles of due process and equal protection.

“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,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “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.”