Supreme Court Declares Defense Of Marriage Act Unconstitutional

By Erin Timmons, Managing Editor

In a landmark ruling yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal law banning two same-sex partners from being considered legally married for federal purposes. Among other things, the law meant that up until now, the federal government has not allowed same-sex couples to file federal tax returns jointly even if the couple entered into a marriage or a civil union in a state where such unions are legal.

While legalizing same-sex marriage appears to still fall under the purview of each individual state, the overturning of DOMA will likely mean that same-sex couples who were married in a state that allows same-sex unions will now have their marriage recognized by the federal government. 

Yesterday’s decision will have a far-reaching effect on the calculation of the expected family contribution (EFC) for students of same-sex-marriage households. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is designed to assess a student’s need for financial assistance as fairly and equitably as possible, but in the past has presented numerous complications for children of same-sex households. 

For example, the non-parent partner's income has not been taken into account in determining federal aid eligibility, even when that person is contributing to the household income. This often leads to students receiving more aid than they would have secured if their true household income had been factored into the equation.

Same-sex marriage does not always lead to more federal aid eligibility for affected applicants. For example, a student in a state-recognized same-sex marriage has been considered a dependent student if she didn’t meet any other independent student criteria, because her marriage was not recognized by the federal government. Because her parents' information must be included on the FASFA she was likely to receive less aid eligibility than a student recognized as independent.

The decision to strike down DOMA brings more equity to the financial aid process by capturing a true and accurate picture of the applicant's family circumstances.

In past years, students filling out the FAFSA have been asked to list their “mother/stepmother” and their “father/stepfather” and as a result students from same-sex households often ended up leaving one parent off the application altogether. The striking-down of DOMA and the announcement earlier this year from the Department of Education (ED)  that, beginning in the 2014-15 school year, parents’ marital status will no longer dictate whose information a dependent student must include on the FAFSA are two big steps toward greater equity and accuracy in the process of calculating financial aid.

In a statement issued after the ruling, President Barack Obama applauded the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down DOMA and said “I've directed the Attorney General to work with other members of my Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for Federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly."


Publication Date: 6/27/2013

Susan F | 6/27/2013 12:31:24 PM

NASFAA and the aid community need to be very very clear to differentiate between legally married same gender couples and same gender partners who are not legally married with only one being the legal parent of an applicants. It would be patently unfair to count an unmarried partner's income unless that person is consider in the # in family/household definition. That ought to hold for ALL unmarried couples regardless of sexual orientation. I hope that some serious discussion takes place at Conference and regret not being able to participate.
Susan Fischer-UW-Madison

Cristi M | 6/27/2013 10:20:33 AM

I am curious on how this will affect states who do not recognize same sex mrriage. My reading of the ruling indicatings that if the state where the couple was legally wed recognizes same sex marrage, then the Federal government recognizes it. But if the couple moves to a state that does not, does the financial aid office recognize the couple as married? I'm just wondering. . .

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