The U.S. Department of Education recently announced that it will no longer use the terms "mother" and "father" when collecting information about a student's legal parents when those parents apply for federal student aid. Instead of using the words "mother" and "father," the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid form (FAFSA) will use "Parent 1" and "Parent 2."
The announcement states that the changes to the 2014-2015 federal student aid form "more accurately and fairly assess students' need for aid" and that "Gender-specific terms fail to capture income and other information from one parent when a student's parents are in a same-sex marriage under state law but not federally recognized under the Defense of Marriage Act."
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, "All students should be able to apply for federal student aid within a system that incorporates their unique family dynamics…. [that] provide[s] an inclusive form that reflects the diversity of American families."
In the past, the FSAF has been used by the Department of Education to collect information about a student's parents – only if they were married. The change allows for legal parents to be identified if they are biological or adoptive and unmarried and accounts for same-sex marriage parents.
In general, the information the FAFSA collects is used to calculate a student's expected family contribution, which determines his/her eligibility for Title IV federal need-based student aid in addition to many state, institutional, and private aid programs.
The Department points to the Higher Education Act, which uses the words "parent" or "parents" rather than "mother" or "father."
The Department published these changes in the Federal Register, which is open to public comment.
This change received praise from the homosexual community.
Shawn Gaylord, director of Public Policy at Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), told the Washington Blade that, "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. 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."
Likewise, the Family Equality Council, which lobbied the Administration on this issue, along with the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals, and the National Center for Transgender Equality, all praised the change.
The change comes while the country waits for the Supreme Court's verdict on the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage.