Daily Dispatches
Photo via fafsa.ed.gov

Government redefines marriage for student loan applications


Students in same-sex marriages can now select “married” when applying for federal student aid and loans, according to changes announced this month by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). The DOE says the shift is an effort to implement “inclusive policies” consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in June. Under DOMA, federal agencies were required to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

This change follows announcements from other federal departments, including the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the IRS, and the Department of Health and Human Services, that they will start recognizing same-sex marriages for their policies, even for residents of states that only allow marriages between men and women.

Effective immediately, the DOE says it will “recognize a student or a parent as legally married if the couple was legally 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.”

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These decisions do not respect state policy and are “further eroding the meaning of marriage” wrote Ryan T. Anderson, a fellow with the Heritage Foundation. He defended the necessity of DOMA, saying, “Just as the states have constitutional authority to make state policy about marriage, so, too, the Supreme Court should have ruled that Congress has constitutional authority to pass a federal statue defining the term for federal programs created by federal law.”

The DOE’s Federal Student Aid program provides $150 billion in federal aid to more than 15 million students each year, according to its website. Students seeking federal grants, loans, and eligibility for work-study programs must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA calculates how much students and their families should contribute to their education. Every year, 22 million students fill out the FAFSA. 

Under the new policy, announced via letter to colleges Dec. 13, a student’s family may include their same-sex spouse or their same-sex married or unmarried parents. Instead of “mother” and “father,” the 2014-2015 FAFSA form asks for information about “Parent 1” and “Parent 2.” The form also gives students the option of selecting “Unmarried and both parents living together” for their parents’ marital status.

In some cases, the new policy might change the amount of aid students receive. For example, students in same-sex marriages can now mark “married” and be considered independent of their parents, increasing the amount for which they are eligible. Students with same-sex married parents must now report the income of both parents, potentially lowering the amount of aid of the student may receive.

Still, Anderson believes the federal government should respect each state’s definition of marriage. He wrote, “A bad Supreme Court ruling should not allow federal bureaucrats to redefine marriage across America for their agency.”

Kiley Crossland
Kiley Crossland

Kiley is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. She and her husband live in Denver, Colo.


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