"I'm guessing the DOE thinks that if a lesbian couple is married or in a civil union or comprehensive domestic partnership, then both are parents. But how about the couple who lives in Virginia, where there is no relationship recognition, but married in DC? Will DOE count them both as parents?" she wrote.
"I mean, really, those of us with deep expertise in this area of law sometimes cannot be sure if someone is a child's legal parent. It's unrealistic to think that individual parents will always know this."
Only 18 states allow second-parent adoptions, which enable one party of a same-sex couple to adopt the partner's child, making them both legal parents. In states such as Iowa, where gay marriage is legal, adoption isn't a guaranteed option, so a student's parents could be legally married, but not legally parents.
That means, despite the FAFSA changes, some students may still have to choose which parent to include on the application, says Wu.
"It is an open and disturbing question that goes beyond the FAFSA form," Wu says. "When [students] live in a state that won't recognize their legal relationship with both their parents, they're put in a very vulnerable position."
Beyond confusion, the process can also take an emotional toll, Wu says.
"Imagine if you're a child who has two lesbian mothers and you have to pick one of them to place on your FAFSA form. What an awful position to have to place a child in."
Still, advocates for the gay and lesbian community say the changes are positive.
"We certainly think it's a step in the right direction," says Brian Moulton, legal director at Human Rights Campaign, a national advocacy organization. "When someone's looking at a form that says just 'mother' and 'father,' that on its face does not acknowledge the fact that there are same-sex couples raising children together."
Students such as Jeremy Goldstein, a recent Binghamton University—SUNY graduate with two moms, agrees.
"I think the change is relevant to today's society," Goldstein told the school's student newspaper on May 3. "Especially given the fact that Rhode Island just made same sex marriage legal."
Legislators in Minnesota have since voted to legalize gay marriage as well.
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