Equality for Marriage, but Not Financial Aid

Since New York state legalized marriage for gay unions, many homosexual partners have enjoyed the legal and social matrimonial benefits that have previously been reserved for straight couples. Unfortunately the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (“Fafsa”) is not up to date with changing composition of families partly because the federal agency that issues it, is obligated to to abide by the Defense of Marriage Act. Better known as DOMA, this statute only recognizes marriages between men and women. As these students cannot fully portray their family’s finances, the amount of aid they receive may not fairly reflect their needs. It has been calculated that the approximate 220,000 children under age 18 that are being raised by same-sex parents may be affected.

According to a New York Times article written by Tara Siegel Bernard, officials from the Department of Education, which issues Fafsa, applicants with married parents from the same gender must fill out the Fafsa as if their parents are divorced. “There is the stigma and indignity of having to list them as divorced, when they are, in fact, not,” said Emily Hecht-McGowan, director of public policy at the Family Equality Council, “It creates confusion and this extra step that children raised by L.G.B.T. parents have to go through.”  In addition, when filling out the form, applicants are required to indicate the parent who provides more financial support which means that the other parent’s income and assets are often ignored. This may have a positive consequence, (that the student is provided with the appropriate or supplementary aid) or a negative one, (that he or she may be given less aid than a student from an identical family headed by heterosexual parents.) Fafsa also concerns homosexual and lesbian students themselves. “Other gay students, who are now out on their own because their families have cut off support on learning about their sexual orientation, have difficulty establishing themselves as financially independent”  writes Bernard.

It has been suggested that the Department of Education should consider revising its policies and procedures in order to recognize families that contain same-sex couples without violating the Defense of Marriage Act. If they refuse, there is hope the Department could issue guidelines for financial aid administrators to assist families in paying tuition.