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Every so often, the British media will run a story about how the government of the day is considering amending the laws governing the succession to the Throne. Nothing is ever done, however, and the story quickly fades from view. But David Cameron may be bucking the trend, for he has finally set in motion the ponderous process of changing the law.
At issue is the fact that the current law is perceived by many as discriminatory. Men take precedence over women. If William and Kate have a daughter, she can only inherit the Throne if her parents never have a son. Such gender discrimination is increasingly hard to justify, and there is widespread support for allowing women to succeed on equal terms.
Cameron also wants to end the prohibition against marrying Roman Catholics. The Act of Succession 1701 states that, if a person who is in the line of succession marries a Roman Catholic, they automatically forfeit their right to the Crown. On the surface, this looks like a straightforward issue of religious discrimination.
Critics have pointed out that the prohibition does not apply to a person who marries a Presbyterian, a Muslim, or even an atheist, and they see it as something of an anomaly that Roman Catholics are singled out in this manner. However, allowing a person who is married to a Roman Catholic to ascend the Throne could have unforeseen consequences because of the Roman Catholic Church’s rules regarding ‘mixed’ marriages.
Typically, if a Roman Catholic marries a non-Roman Catholic, the non-Roman Catholic person must agree to let any children be raised as Roman Catholics. This would be problematic because a Roman Catholic cannot ascend the Throne because of the monarch’s role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
Although supporters of succesion-law reform argue that, because the monarch’s role in the Church is mostly ceremonial, there is no problem with a Roman Catholic becoming the titular Supreme Governor of the Church of England. The Church of England continues to oppose such a move. Since there is little political will to disestablish the Church of England, Cameron’s reforms can only go so far.
Because the British monarch is also the monarch of fifteen other countries within the Commonwealth of Nations, any change to the succession law will require the unanimous agreement of those other countries. Cameron has written to the Queen’s other Prime Ministers to obtain their support for the changes, and it is likely the matter will be discussed further at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth later this month.
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