Education Department announces that all legal same-sex marriages will be recognized for federal financial aid purposes
Dec. 12, 2013: As part of the U.S. Department of Education’s ongoing efforts to implement inclusive policies that reflect the diversity of American families, and consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in United States v. Windsor, the Department has 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 new guidance is based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor, which struck down a key part of DOMA. Under today’s guidance, the Department 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. This guidance impacts all questions concerning marriage and marital status on the FAFSA.
Before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Windsor, the 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. Specifically, Section 3 provides that “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”
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.
In April 2013, the Department began efforts to make the FAFSA more inclusive of all students, regardless of their parents’ marital status. In order to more accurately and fairly assess a student’s need for aid, the Department announced that beginning with the 2014-2015 FAFSA, it will collect income and other information from both of a dependent student’s legal parents regardless of the parents' marital status or gender, if those parents live together.
For more information about federal student aid, visit the Department’s website: studentaid.ed.gov