Position on Equality of Opportunity

State or National:


Position in Brief:

Equal Rights. Support ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and efforts to bring laws into compliance with the goals of the ERA. Education, Employment and Housing. Support equal access to education, employment and housing.


Statement of Position on Equality of Opportunity, as Revised by the National Board in January 1989, based on Positions Announced by the National Board in January 1969, Adopted by the 1972 Convention, Expanded by the 1980 Convention and the 2010 Convention.

The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that the federal government shares with other levels of government the responsibility to provide equality of opportunity for education, employment and housing for all persons in the United States regardless of their race, color, gender, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation or disability. Employment opportunities in modern, technological societies are closely related to education; therefore, the League supports federal programs to increase the education and training of disadvantaged people. The League supports federal efforts to prevent and/or remove discrimination in education, employment and housing and to help communities bring about racial integration of their school systems.

The League of Women Voters of the United States supports equal rights for all regardless of sex. The League supports action to bring laws into compliance with the ERA: a) to eliminate or amend those laws that have the effect of discriminating on the basis of sex; b) to promote laws that support the goals of the ERA; c) to strengthen the enforcement of such existing laws.

The League of Women Voters of the United States supports equal rights for all under state and federal law. LWVUS supports legislation to equalize the legal rights, obligations, and benefits available to same-gender couples with those available to heterosexual couples. LWVUS supports legislation to permit same-gender couples to marry under civil law. The League believes that the civil status of marriage is already clearly distinguished from the religious institution of marriage and that religious rights will be preserved.

Further Guidelines and Criteria

In more specific terms, the kinds of programs the League supports include:

  • Programs in basic education, occupational education and retraining when needed at any point of an individual’s working career.
  • Expanded opportunities in apprenticeship and on-the-job training programs.
  • Child-care centers for preschool children to give parents the opportunity for employment.
  • Greatly increased educational opportunity through compensatory programs for disadvantaged groups beginning at the preschool level and extending through secondary education.
  • Federal financial aid to help needy students remain in high school and to take advantage of post-high school training and education.
  • A regional approach to problems of economically depressed areas that cuts across state lines. This approach can be handled administratively by such means as interstate cooperation or more formal interstate compacts or commissions made up of representatives of state and federal governments. Development programs should reflect the needs of the particular area and can include such measures as provision of education and training for available jobs, encouragement of new industry in the area, development and conservation of natural resources and the building of public facilities.
  • Programs that would inform individuals of their civil rights in education, employment and housing, and of the opportunities open to them.
  • Full use of mediation and conciliation in efforts to bring about integration of minority groups into full participation in community life.
  • A federal clearinghouse for the exchange of information on solutions communities have found to problems of integration in employment, education and housing.
  • Programs to bring about effective integration of schools through federal technical assistance such as training programs and institutes for teachers and school administrators.
  • Withholding federal funds from school districts that fail to meet realistic and effective guidelines and standards for school integration.
  • Withholding government contracts from businesses and industries that discriminate in employment.
  • An effective federal fair employment practices agency.

Education and Employment Criteria

In evaluating federal programs that have been, or will be, established to provide equality of opportunity for education and employment, the League will support those programs that largely fulfill the following criteria:

  • The nationwide effort to achieve equality of opportunity in education and employment should include participation of government at all levels and encourage the participation of private institutions.
  • Programs should be carefully tailored to the educational or employment needs of the people they are intended to reach.
  • People for whom community action programs are designed should be involved in the planning and implementation of those programs.
  • The programs should be carried out by personnel competent to meet the specific requirements of their jobs.
  • Programs should assist people to become self-supporting, contributing members of society.
  • The programs should be nondiscriminatory with provisions for enforcement.
  • Research, pilot projects and continuing evaluation should be encouraged and, where feasible, built into programs.
  • Programs may be closely related but should avoid unnecessary duplication.
  • State and local governments should contribute to the extent their resources permit; at the same time, adequate federal funds for the establishment and continuation of programs should be available if necessary.

Fair Housing Criteria

The following criteria should be applied to programs and policies to provide equal opportunity for access to housing without discrimination:

  • Opportunities for purchase or renting of homes and for borrowing money for housing should not be restricted because of discriminatory reasons such as race, color, sex, religion or national origin.
  • Responsibility in the nationwide effort to achieve equality of opportunity for access to housing resides with government at all levels and with the private sector—builders, lending institutions, realtors, labor unions, business and industry, news media, civic organizations, educational institutions, churches and private citizens.
  • The continued existence of patterns of discrimination depends on the covert support of community leaders, institutions and residents. Award or withdrawal of federal contracts and placement of federal installations should be used as levers to change this covert support.
  • After positive steps such as mediation and conciliation have been exhausted, the federal government should have the option for selective withholding of federal funds where patterns of discrimination in access to housing occur. In applying the option to withhold funds, the federal government should weigh the effects of its actions on the welfare of lower-income and minority groups.
  • Federal programs should include provisions to guarantee equal opportunity for access to housing. Federal funds should not be used to perpetuate discrimination.
  • In the enforcement of fair-housing laws, speedy resolution should be ensured. Administrative procedures and responsibilities should be clearly defined and widely publicized.
  • Mediation and legal redress should be readily available. The process should ensure every possible protection for both complainant and persons or institutions against whom complaints are lodged. Avenues for mediation and legal redress should be widely publicized and should be easily accessible.
  • Funding should be adequate to provide trained and competent staff for public education to inform citizens of the provisions of fair-housing legislation, of their fair-housing rights and of procedures to be followed in securing them. Adequate funding should also be available for mediation and for all aspects of speedy enforcement.
  • There should be continued evaluation to provide a basis for revision and strengthening of all procedures so that equality of opportunity for access to housing can be accomplished.

Position History:

By 1966, the League had reached its first position on combatting poverty and discrimination: support of policies and programs to provide equal opportunity for all in education and employment. The position described general criteria and specific kinds of programs to further these goals.

“An evaluation of equality of opportunity for housing” was in the proposed program slated for 1968 Convention consideration. Two events that spring caused delegates to alter the normal sequence of study/consensus/position: the shock waves in cities following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the passage of a new civil rights bill that included fair housing.

Convinced that League members knew where they stood on fair housing, delegates amended the existing position at Convention, adding support for equality of opportunity for housing, and they redirected the study from an evaluation of the concept to an evaluation of the means to achieve the goal. By December 1969, members had endorsed criteria for ensuring fair housing and adequate housing supply.

The League has consistently supported federal programs aimed at combating poverty and discrimination and has worked at the community level for successful implementation. The list is long – starting with programs initiated under the long-defunct Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), legal services, community action agencies, Job Corps, urban renewal, Model Cities and others designed to provide equal access to housing, employment and education.

When the federal government combined many categorical grant programs into block grants, the League found new ways to work for the goals and policies it supports. In 1973, the League began monitoring the impact of the General Revenue Sharing (GRS) program on poverty and discrimination. This resulted in reforms incorporated into the 1976 GRS amendments that tightened weak antidiscrimination provisions and expanded citizen participation and accountability requirements, but efforts to direct more funds to jurisdictions in greatest need failed.

Since the late 1970s, threats to League goals and policies have taken the form of frequent legislative and executive attempts to drastically reduce federal funding of League-supported programs, as well as persistent moves to dilute existing civil rights laws and policies. The League has actively opposed tuition tax credits, budget cuts in social welfare programs and large, untargeted block grants, while supporting strengthened fair-housing legislation and civil rights legislation to reaffirm congressional intent in passing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 that the law be broadly interpreted and applied.

The League’s Social Policy positions were revised in 1989. The Equal Access to Education, Employment, and Housing position was combined with Equal Rights into one Equality of Opportunity position.

The 1992 Convention added language to the Equality of Opportunity position, stating that it referred to “all persons, regardless of their race, color, gender, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation or disability.” In July 1992, the LWVUS joined the National Endorsement Campaign in calling for the extension of existing civil rights laws by local, state and federal legislation to prohibit discrimination against lesbians and gay men in jobs, housing and public accommodations. In the 106th Congress, the LWVUS supported federal legislation targeting hate crimes. Convention 2010 added language to the Equality of Opportunity position to equalize the rights of same-gender couples to those of heterosexual couples.


The League is committed to racial integration of schools as a necessary condition for equal access to education.

When busing became one means of achieving school desegregation, Leagues worked to ensure that laws were obeyed peacefully – building coalitions, running rumor-control centers, sometimes going to court to get compliance. At the national level, the League worked to oppose antibusing/anti-desegregation initiatives in Congress.

The League served as an amicus in Supreme Court challenges to the desegregation process. The LWVEF maintained a desegregation clearinghouse and assembled League leaders and national policy experts for a workshop on metropolitan school desegregation in 1982-84.

Quality Education

The 1974-76 LWVUS Program included the phrase “equal access to…quality education,” reflecting League recognition that “equality” and “quality” are inseparable. However, the LWVUS has never undertaken a process for determining a common League definition of quality education that could serve as a basis for action nationwide. Therefore, when the definition of quality is a key factor in a state or local community, a local or state League must conduct its own study rather than relying on the LWVUS position to take action. Many Leagues that have member agreement on quality education in specific terms use their positions to support an array of local and state educational reforms. A number of Leagues have used this position to oppose private school vouchers. The LWVUS is a member of the National Coalition for Public Education, which opposes vouchers.

Tuition Tax Credits

The 1978 Convention directed the national board to oppose tax credits for families of children attending private elementary and secondary schools. Convention action was based on League support for equal access to education and support for desegregation as a means of promoting equal access. The League is concerned about the negative impact that tuition tax credits would have on the public schools by encouraging flight, particularly from desegregated schools. The League also supports federal efforts through Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulation to deny tax-exempt status to racially discriminatory “segregation academies.”

Federal Programs

The League supports many federal education programs, some designed to meet the special educational needs of the poor and minorities and others to give women and minorities equal education opportunities.

The League worked for passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal aid. Subsequently, the League has focused on thwarting congressional attempts to dilute Title IX, as well as on advancing federal enforcement efforts. At the national level, the League was active in major court challenges to Title IX, defending key provisions and urging a broad interpretation of Title IX’s scope. In 1983, the League filed an amicus brief in Grove City College v. Bell, a major Supreme Court case that narrowed considerably the prohibitions of Title IX. In1984, after the Court’s decision, the League supported efforts in Congress for new legislation clarifying congressional intent on the scope of coverage of Title IX and similar civil rights statutes.

In 2003, the League responded to a Department of Education effort to scale back Title IX. The LWVUS opposed attempts to weaken the law and lobbied in support of congressional resolutions affirming that Title IX had made great progress in establishing equal opportunity for girls and women in education and in school athletics. In July 2003, the Department of Education affirmed its support for Title IX without change. In September 2004, the LWVUS signed on to an amicus brief in Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education, supporting Title IX’s original intent of broad and effective protection against gender discrimination by ensuring that individuals who bring discriminatory practices to light are protected from retaliation and reprisal.

Under an LWVEF project to monitor sex equity in vocational education programs in 1981-82, several state Leagues evaluated progress toward meeting federal sex-equity mandates. Vocational education programs have significant impact on employment, particularly for women who have difficulty gaining access to training programs for higher paying jobs. Linkages between the League’s Education and Employment positions promoted increasing the enrollment of girls and young women in math and science courses, to prepare them for the jobs of the future.

Education Financing

Many state and local Leagues have identified inequities in education financing during the course of their own program studies and have worked for reforms. Action on school financing equity takes place predominantly at the state level, where school financing laws are made. With financial and technical support from an LWVEF grant, a number of state Leagues have stepped up efforts to educate citizens about inequities and inadequacies of state funding systems.


The League has supported federal job training programs and is on record in favor of a full employment policy, i.e., the concept of assuring a job for all those able and seeking to work. In 1978, the League supported passage of the Humphrey-Hawkins bill to promote full employment.

The League supported the public service employment (PSE) component of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Program (CETA) during the 1970s and worked for the passage of emergency jobs legislation in 1983, spearheading a “Call to Action for Jobs for Women” that resulted in more funding for the types of public-service jobs that women traditionally perform. In 1994, the League unsuccessfully supported passage of the Infrastructure Jobs Act and the Full Employment Opportunity Act, both targeted especially to urban areas.

Nondiscrimination & Affirmative Action

Through legislative and regulatory approaches, as well as litigation, the League advocates affirmative action programs for minorities and women. Action has included a lawsuit to compel the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to issue goals and timetables governing the employment of women in nontraditional jobs and apprenticeship programs and prodding to ensure enforcement. The League has worked to combat administrative initiatives to restrict the enforcement authority of DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Since 1977, the League has supported measures to combat employment discrimination in Congress itself.

The League has been outspoken in supporting affirmative action programs and policies. That support has included filing amicus briefs in key affirmative action lawsuits, including Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corp. v. Weber in 1979, Boston Firefighters Union, Local 718 v. Boston Chapter NAACP in 1983, Firefighters Local Union No. 1784 v. Stotts in 1984 and Williams v. City of New Orleans in 1983. The League has actively opposed attempts by OFCCP to weaken regulations that govern the federal contract compliance program. During the 1985-86 Supreme Court term, the League filed amicus briefs in three key affirmative action cases: Local 28 Sheet Metal Workers v. EEOC, Local 93 International Association of Firefighters v. City of Cleveland, and Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education. The Court reaffirmed the validity of voluntary race-based affirmative action in these cases.

In 1986, the LWVUS signed onto another amicus brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court, Johnson v. Transportation Agency. In 1987, the Court held that public employers may adopt voluntary affirmative action plans to attain work force balances in traditionally segregated job categories—the first instance in which the Supreme Court upheld a gender-based affirmative action plan.

In 1988, the League participated in a Supreme Court amicus brief in Patterson v. McLean Credit Union. In its 1989 decision, the Court reaffirmed that Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1986, which prohibits racial discrimination in contracts, applies to private acts of discrimination. However, the Court also held that Section 1981 does not apply to racial harassment or other discriminatory working conditions that arise after an employment contract has been entered into.

Between 1984 and 1988, the League was an active player in successfully urging Congress to pass the Civil Rights Restoration Act, which restored four anti-discrimination laws that were narrowed by the Supreme Court’s 1984 Grove City v. Bell decision. Subsequently, the League endorsed the Civil Rights Act, which reversed a series of 1989 Supreme Court decisions that seriously weakened federal employment discrimination laws, and strengthened protections under federal civil rights laws. In 1990, the bill passed both Houses of Congress but was vetoed by the President. In 1991 a compromise bill was passed by Congress and signed by the President. The League did not actively support this bill, in part because it placed a monetary limit on damages for sex discrimination, including sexual harassment. In 1992, the League joined other groups in supporting the Equal Remedies Act, which would remove the monetary limit on damages in civil rights laws.

In response to continued congressional attacks, the League joined other concerned organizations in the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) to reaffirm strong support for affirmative action programs.

In 2004 and 2006, the League opposed the “Federal Marriage Amendment,” which would permanently write discrimination into the United States Constitution by limiting fundamental protections such as health care benefits for same-sex partners.

In 2008, the League joined other organizations in support of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), designed to restore the ADA to its original intent and ensure coverage for disabled Americans in all aspects of society. The bill was passed and signed into law. In 2012, the League joined an amicus brief in an affirmative action case before the Supreme Court, urging the Court to recognize that diversity in higher education is crucial for the success of our multi-racial democracy.

Pay Equity

League work on pay equity (equal pay for jobs of comparable worth) stemmed from member concern over the feminization of poverty. The League played a key role at the national level through its work with the broad-based National Committee on Pay Equity in the 1980s. In 1986, the LWVEF participated in an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in the pay equity case, Bazemore v. Friday. The Court ruled a state agency may be held liable for disparities in salaries between blacks and whites, even if the disparities were caused by racial discrimination that occurred before the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

State and local Leagues also have endorsed legislative efforts to undertake job evaluation studies or to implement pay equity for public employees.

Fair Housing

The League made passage of the Fair Housing Amendments a priority in 1980. The legislation passed the House but was filibustered in the Senate. Another attempt in 1983-84 was put on hold in light of more pressing civil rights issues. The League also supported reauthorization of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) in 1982.

LWVEF participation in a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-funded project in 1979-81 enabled local Leagues to promote the entry of women into the mortgage credit market and sparked interest in the problems of single-headed households, displaced homemakers and discrimination against families with children.

In 1989-90, the League endorsed recommendations to Congress by the Women and Housing Task Force of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which included enforcing the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. The act, for the first time, prohibited housing discrimination against families with children.

In 2005, the League urged support in Congress for creation of the Affordable Housing Fund, a long overdue step toward addressing the housing crisis that confronts very low- and extremely low-income families. It also urged House members to protect activities of the nonprofit groups providing the bulk of housing services for our poorest communities.

Equal Rights

In 1972, shortly after congressional passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), the national Convention overwhelmingly approved support of “equal rights for all regardless of sex” as a necessary extension of the League’s long-term support for equal opportunity for all. Delegates also voted to support the ERA. With this decisive action, the League came full circle in giving priority support once again to equal rights for women and men. The foremothers of the women’s movement, in their 1848 Conventions at Seneca Falls and Rochester, New York, rooted the movement in a demand for women’s equality before the law. The right to vote came to be seen as the key that would unlock the door to the others. This vision sustained the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), the forerunner of the League. When the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, suffrage leaders divided on strategy. Some founded the National Woman’s Party, which sponsored the first ERA, introduced in Congress in 1923. Others—the founders of the League among them—decided not to push for an ERA. It’s hard for League members now to imagine the time in which the League actually opposed the ERA. It wasn’t for lack of concern for women’s rights. The League’s record on that point speaks for itself. Rather, it was a problem in priorities. At the League’s 1921 Convention delegates decided that an ERA might adversely affect new and hard-won state labor legislation, which offered some protection to tens of thousands of women working in nonunionized, unskilled jobs. Moreover, though it was an organization of women, the early LWV wanted to affirm strongly that its interests and lobbying activities were not confined to women’s issues. The League in the 1920s and 1930s set the stage for future program development by focusing on a broad range of social issues. Many were, of course, of obvious concern for women: the Sheppard-Towner Act, which provided for federally funded infant and maternity care; the removal of discrimination against women in immigration and naturalization laws; equality for women in the Civil Service Classification Act; equal pay for equal work. During the same period, local and state Leagues worked to eliminate sex discrimination affecting jury duty, property rights, the treatment of women offenders and a number of other issues. Through the 1940s, the national League program included “removal of legal and administrative discriminations against women,” but retained the statement in opposition to an ERA until 1954 when the national program was restructured and it disappeared. As the League became active in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, members grew acutely aware of the parallels between the status of women and minorities. Many state and local Leagues pursued women’s issues with new vigor, and a strong push for women’s issues developed at the national level, culminating in the 1972 Convention action. Subsequent Conventions have reaffirmed the League’s commitment to the ERA. The 1980 Convention took the League’s commitment a step further, voting to use the existing ERA position as a basis not only for ratification efforts, but also to work on gender-based discrimination through action to bring laws into compliance with the goals of the ERA. In 1972, lobbying for ratification—and against rescission—on a state-by-state basis became a top League priority at the national and state levels. In 1979, the LWVUS organized the National Business Council (NBC) for ERA, the first formal structure to bring major business leaders into the fight for ratification. In 1981 under an LWVUS/NBC partnership, a volunteer task force of advertising executives developed and produced radio ads designed to “sell” the ERA in seven unratified states. Throughout the media campaign, the LWVUS provided extensive technical and financial assistance to state Leagues and ERA coalitions, and worked to organize business efforts in the states. The ratification process was not completed by the June 30, 1982, deadline, but the League’s support of a constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law remains strong. The League supported reintroduction of the ERA in Congress in 1982 and helped lead a lobbying effort that culminated in a narrow November 1983 defeat in the House. In July 1993, the League signed on to an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case, J.E.B. v. T.B, which argued that sex discrimination in jury selection is prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. League participation was based on support for actions to bring laws into compliance with the ERA. In 1994, the Supreme Court agreed, ruling that state laws allowing jury challenges based solely on sex are unconstitutional. The League will continue to work to achieve the goals of the expanded ERA position. Issues cover action for pay equity and support for the Economic Equity Act, which includes provisions to eliminate sex discrimination in pensions and insurance. In 1996, the League endorsed the Women’s Pension Equity Act, legislation designed to make pension law simpler and more even-handed. Meanwhile, the League continues to lay the groundwork for passage and ratification of the ERA. On the international front, the League of Women Voters supports the United Nations Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and is on the Steering Committee of the NGO UNICEF Working Group on Girls at the UN, which formed an International Network for Girls, a global advocacy network.