The Department of Education has announced that beginning with the 2014-2015 Free Application for Federal Student Aid, they will recognize same-sex parents for the purposes of income information on applications for federal financial aid. Income information will now be blind to legal parents' marital status or gender if those individuals live together, reports the Washington Blade.
The precise changes are two-fold. First, the application will offer an option for students to describe their parents' marital status as "unmarried and both parents living together." Second, where appropriate, the new FAFSA form will use terms like "Parent 1 (father/mother/stepparent)" and "Parent 2 (father/mother/stepparent)" instead of gender-specific terms like "mother" or "father."
Before this change FAFSA only collected information about a student's parents if they were legally married in a manner recognized under the Defense of Marriage Act.
While the changes will be more inclusive of LGBT families, and be fairer overall, it's unlikely to be of financial benefit to that community. The Department of Education reports that in most circumstances these families will now become less eligible for assistance as the income of previously ignored parents is taken into account.
"These changes will allow us to calculate eligibility based on what a student's whole family is able to contribute and ensure that limited taxpayer dollars are better targeted toward those students who have the most need," Duncan said. "And very importantly, these changes allow us to provide an inclusive form that reflects the great diversity of American families."
Duncan went on to stress that the changes only affected a small minority of students but would be fairer to both the LGBT community by no longer automatically disenfranchising them, and to student families overall as they would no longer be treated differently.
Despite the likelihood that LGBT student families will be worse off overall under the changes, the move has been praised by LGBT groups like the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.
"GLSEN has long worked to ensure that sexual orientation and gender identity are not used to discriminate against students in our nation's K-12 schools, whether that student identifies as LGBT, has LGBT friends, or comes from an LGBT family," said GLSEN Director of Public Policy Shawn Gaylord. "We're thrilled by the Department of Education's decision to allow students filling out the FAFSA to accurately describe the makeup of their family, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity."
The Family Equality Council, the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals and the National Center for Transgender Equality all echoed the praise.