Prime Minister Gordon Brown has begun discussions with Queen Elizabeth on abolishing a 308-year-old law that prohibits Roman Catholic believers from ever assuming the throne, British newspapers reported Friday.
Since 1701, Britain’s Act of Settlement has forbidden members of the Royal Family from converting to Catholicism or marrying a Catholic -- unless they first agree to be removed from the line of succession.
The law, which dates back to conflicts in the 17th century between Protestants and Catholics, is intended to ensure that no Catholic could ever assume the British throne. The rules also give preference to male over female offspring.
Brown said that citizens of the British Commonwealth “expect discrimination to be removed.”
Opposition leader David Cameron gave the proposal a strong endorsement, expressing dissatisfaction with the current law of succession.
“I would like it to change,” Cameron told the BBC. “It does not make sense in the 21st Century to say that men have priority over women when it comes to inheriting the throne.”
Currently, daughters follow behind their brothers in the order of succession to the British throne, even if the brothers are younger.
Cameron added, “It does not make sense to say that the king cannot marry a Catholic.”
The Daily Telegraph reports that Buckingham Palace appears to be “open” to the proposal, although no timetable for the change has been discussed. Whether the revised law should apply retroactively to current members of the Royal Family is one of several topics being discussed.
During the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Michael of Kent and the Earl of St. Andrews both renounced their right to succession and married Catholics.
The Telegraph reports that the deputy leader of Commons, Chris Bryant, has been reviewing at Brown’s behest the constitutional issues involved. Bryant said the government wanted to see a “rational situation” where Catholics and Protestants, and men and women, are treated equally.
There are several complications to deal with before the changes could be made. Chief among them: Consultation with all 53 Commonwealth countries.
That’s not the only change afoot for tradition-steeped England, however.
Brown is reportedly considering offering a peerage to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. If that occurs, the Telegraph reports, it would mark the first time since the Reformation that a Roman Catholic Bishop has sat in the House of Lords.
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