Department of Education Interpretation Catches Up to the Law: Financial Aid Eligibility and Same-Sex Marriages

December 16, 2013

By: John Gaal

Histdoe-logoorically, the Department of Education had interpreted all provisions of Title IV of the Higher Education Act (which authorizes federal student aid programs) consistent with Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), which prohibited federal agencies from recognizing same-sex marriages.  As a result of United States v. Windsor, in which the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated portions of DOMA, the Department announced this past Friday that it will now recognize a student or parent in a same sex marriage as legally married provided they were married in a jurisdiction which recognizes that marriage, and regardless of where they now reside. In a Dear Colleague letter  issued December 13, the Department indicated that this recognition applies to both a student and to the parents of a dependent student. It also applies to a student attending an institution located in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage as well as in a jurisdiction that does not recognize same-sex marriage. However, this determination applies only to marriages and not other relationships, such as registered domestic partnerships, civil unions, or similar formal relationships recognized under state law.  This guidance will be relevant to all questions concerning marriage and marital status on the FAFSA. Additional information regarding implementation of the Department's interpretation, especially as it relates to the 2013-2104 FAFSA, is contained in the Dear Colleague letter.