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Changes made for gay couples applying for federal college loans

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Derek Kitchen, left, and his partner Moudi Sbeity look at each other following court on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, in Salt Lake City. (AP)

Legally married gay couples applying for federal college loans will be given the same rights and opportunities as their straight married classmates, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Friday.

“We must continue to ensure that every single American is treated equally in the eyes of the law, and this important guidance for students is another step forward in that effort,” Duncan said in a statement.

He added that as students across the country fill out their federal aid applications this year, he’ll be “thrilled they’ll be able to do so in a way that is more fair and just.”

Under the new guidance, the Education Department will recognize a student or a parent as legally married if the couple was legally married in any jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage, regardless of where the student or couple lives or the student is attending school.

The new application forms do not distinguish between gay or straight marriages.

The change was formally announced to colleges and parents in a letter from Brenda Dann-Messier, the department’s assistant secretary for vocational and adult education.

Before the Supreme Court ruled this summer, the Education Department was bound by the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited all federal agencies from recognizing same-sex marriages. The Clinton-era law defined marriage as between one and one woman and worked against many applicants in same-sex marriages.

Friday’s move is the latest effort by the Education Department to be more helpful to students in same-sex marriages, and those with married gay parents.

Even before the ruling, Duncan instructed the department to collect information on both of the student’s legal parents, regardless of marital status. That meant children being raised by unmarried couples—regardless of sexual orientation—would have both adults’ incomes factored into financial aid eligibility.

That was done to reflect that same-sex couples share financial responsibilities for children, even if their state does not sanction gay marriages.

Friday’s announcement signals a shift at broadening gay rights across the country.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed gay marriage and granted federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.