The leaders of the 16 Commonwealth countries unanimously agreed on Friday to change succession laws, allowing sons and daughters of any future UK monarch to have equal right to the throne, in a historic blow for women’s rights.
It won’t change anything for Prince Charles, the current heir to the throne, who is the oldest child of his parents. The new succession rule will come into play for Prince William‘s children. (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk)
The leaders of the Commonwealth countries also lifted a constitutional ban on the monarch’s marrying a Roman Catholic, some 500 years after Henry VIII broke with Rome. However the rule which reserves the throne to Protestants will remain.
David Cameron, UK’s prime minister, announced the agreement in Perth, Australia, where Commonwealth heads of government are holding a summit meeting.
“Put simply, if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were to have a little girl, that girl would one day be our queen,” he said.
“The idea that a younger son should become monarch instead of an elder daughter simply because he is a man, or that a future monarch can marry someone of any faith except a Catholic – this way of thinking is at odds with the modern countries that we have become,” added Mr Cameron.
54 countries are members of the Commonwealth, but the Queen is head of state in only 16 of them, known as realms : Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Papua New Guinea, St Christopher and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tuvalu, Barbados, Grenada, Solomon Islands, St Lucia and the Bahamas.
‘Equality for women’
“I’m very enthusiastic about it. You would expect the first Australian woman prime minister to be very enthusiastic about a change which equals equality for women in a new area,” said Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
She added that the changes appeared to be simple. “But just because they seem straightforward to our modern minds doesn’t mean that we should underestimate their historical significance, changing as they will for all time the way in which the monarchy works and changing its history.”
However “nothing has changed” according to the campaign group Republic, which wants an elected head of state in Britain.
“The monarchy discriminates against every man, woman and child who isn’t born into the Windsor family. To suggest that this has anything to do with equality is utterly absurd,” spokesman Graham Smith said.
About allowing future monarchs to marry Roman Catholics, UK’s PM said : “Let me be clear, the monarch must be in communion with the Church of England because he or she is the head of that Church. But it is simply wrong they should be denied the chance to marry a Catholic if they wish to do so. After all, they are already quite free to marry someone of any other faith.”
A decision welcomed by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols who described it as the elimination of the “unjust discrimination”.
“At the same time I fully recognise the importance of the position of the established church [the Church of England] in protecting and fostering the role of faith in our society today,” he said.
Although the Queen did not directly mention the succession to the throne in her opening speech, she said women should have a greater role in society.
“It encourages us to find ways to show girls and women to play their full part,” she said.
In order to end gender discrimination in the succession to the throne, last January Labour MP Keith Vaz tabled a Succession to the Crown Bill in the Commons.
Due for its second reading on 25 November, the bill could be used to introduce the reforms announced on Friday in Perth, said Mr Vaz.
“As a society that values gender equality so highly, this is a long overdue,” he said. “We will now have modern laws that fit our modern monarchy.”
Every two years the 54 nations with current or former ties to Britain gather for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (Chogm) in order to discuss a range of issues
Along with the succession to the throne, this year’s Chogm summit will discuss economic growth, climate change and human rights.