Royal succession laws: Discriminatory against women and catholics

20 December 2010

Employers cannot discriminate against workers and employees on the grounds of their religion or belief or sex, so why should a different rule apply to the Royal Family who are meant to lead by example?

MPs are launching a fresh attempt to overhaul royal succession laws which discriminate against women and Catholics. The rule of primogeniture means that a woman in the line of succession is automatically superseded by a younger male sibling.

MPs are also trying to remove the ban under the 1701 Act of Settlement on Catholics marrying the Monarch.

If the reforms are passed and Prince William and Kate Middleton’s first child is a girl, then she would become Queen of England.

Labour MP Keith Vaz, who is proposing the private members bill said that ‘the current system is unfair and discriminatory. Why is it in the 21st century, when we believe so strongly in equality between men and woman, that we should be discriminating in this way against who is going to be the King or Queen or England?’

This is a once in a generation opportunity to change the succession laws, because there is no dispute about the succession for two generations, with Prince Charles set to take the throne after the Queen and then Prince William.

The reforms are supported by a number of MPs and 14 have signed a Commons motion tabled by Mr Vaz calling for an end to the ‘out dated, sexist and anti Catholic aspects of the constitution’. However others believe it would be absurd for the Monarch, who is the head of the Church of England to be a Roman Catholic. The Equalities Minister Lynn Featherstone said ‘we can’t have a law that is meant to fight discrimination and injustice (i.e. the Equality Act) that allows a blatantly sexist law on Royal succession to continue. This is the perfect time to change the law, when there is no one who will be personally affected. Let’s confine this outdated myth that men are better than women to the dustbin of history’.

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said “the government accepts that the provisions in the Act of Settlement could be discriminatory” however amending the Act of Settlement will be a complex and difficult matter. Other Commonwealth countries where the Queen is head of state will be affected by these proposals. In addition lifting the prohibition on heirs to the throne marrying Catholics would raise broader issues relating to the Anglican Church.

What do you think? Should the government publish a consultation document so that the public can debate these important issues?

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