Legal Same Sex Marriages Valid for Federal Student Aid

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The U.S. Department of Education's (DOE) announced December 13 that it will recognize all legal same sex marriages for federal financial aid purposes. DOE cited the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in United States v. Windsor as the impetus for the policy.

DOE said 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." This guidance actually impacts all questions concerning marriage and marital status on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines the financial eligibility for loans and grants to college students.

One offshoot of this policy is the possibility that federal student aid expenditures might increase. When a student changes from a dependent to independent, generally, there are fewer financial resources available and the amount of money the government expects the family to contribute is less. Therefore, in theory, more people will be eligible for greater aid.

But not everyone thinks so.

Mark Kantrowitz, an educational consultant and founder of FindAid, doubts there will be a measurable impact.

"Given that same sex marriage is a relatively new phenomenon, the change is unlikely to have a significant impact one way or the other for many years," he said. "The U.S. Census Bureau estimates about 170,000 same-sex marriages in the U.S. out of about 58 million married couples, or about 0.3%. So I doubt there will be a measurable change. But this is certainly an interesting question, especially if you extend it to other areas, such as federal income tax revenue and various federal benefit programs."