After the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) this June, changes had to be made to many government forms, including IRS tax returns. Now, the Department of Education has released a revised Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that was constructed with “inclusive language” that doesn’t differentiate between straight or same-sex married couples.
What’s really interesting is that even in states that have specifically limited the scope of what they legally consider “marriage” to heterosexual couplings, federal student aid will be extended to same-sex couples. 33 states have enacted legislation specifically prohibiting same-sex marriage and all but four of these have gone so far as to amend their state constitutions to block gay marriage.
It will be interesting to see how this is managed for same-sex couples who, for instance, live in a state where same-sex marriage is banned but travel to a state where it is legal to carry out their marriage. Then if one of the partners in the marriage apply for federal aid, will the government consider them married?
In the announcements section of the official FAFSA site, it now says:
For all FAFSA questions related to marital status, applicants who are married or the married parents of dependent applicants must respond as married without regard to whether the marriage is between individuals of the same-sex or opposite sex. This applies if the applicant and applicant’s spouse, or the applicant’s parents, were legally married in any state or jurisdiction (including a foreign country), without regard to where the couple resides or where the student will be attending college.
The department has said it will recognize any couple as legally married if they were wed in a state that allows same-sex marriages. This means even if they don’t reside in a state where it’s legal, if the marriage is executed where it is legal, the revised FAFSA would apply when one of the partners is applying for federal aid.
When it is the child of a same-sex couple, no matter what state they reside in, the incomes of both legal parents are counted for FAFSA calculation purposes. The same goes for unmarried couples who share children. The ultimate goal, according to the Department of Education, is fairness. Education Secretary Arne 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.”
Even if the student – whether a child of a same-sex couple or a partner in a same-sex coupling – goes to school in a state that does not recognize gay marriage, the federal aid process will still take the coupling into account when calculating aid. And since the FAFSA drives any state aid as well, it will be interesting to see if any states that are opposed to same-sex marriage will develop their own state aid forms.
However, the Catch-22 would be that if the states disregard the income of one of the parents or partners in the same-sex marriage, income would be lower and the level of aid should increase. So this would mean (potentially) that this move could actually be advantageous to same-sex couples. It will interesting to see if politics outweighs fiscal prudence and if any of the 33 states develop their own forms as a pushback against the Department of Education’s enhanced FAFSA that embraces the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision.
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