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Britain may relax "anachronistic" royal laws
Fri Mar 27, 2009 9:30am EDT
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By Peter Griffiths
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain may end centuries of discrimination by reforming 300-year-old laws that ban the monarch from marrying a Catholic and give male heirs prior claim to the throne, the government said Friday.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has held talks with Queen Elizabeth, who had no brothers, on changing the 1701 law on succession that was drawn up at a time of widespread hostility to Roman Catholics.
The Act of Settlement bars members of the royal family from becoming king or queen if they are Catholic or marry a Catholic. It also gives male heirs precedence in the line of succession.
Brown said the reform of one of the central planks of British law is overdue but will be complicated by the need for the approval of all 53 Commonwealth countries.
"In the 21st century people do expect discrimination to be removed," he told the BBC. "There are clearly issues that have got to be dealt with not just in Britain but ... across the whole of the Commonwealth."
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, head of the Catholic church in England and Wales, also wants the law to be reformed, though he thinks there are more important issues facing the country.
"It is anachronistic and discriminatory and he is sure it will be repealed at some point," his spokesman said. "However, it is not something that the church is actively lobbying for. It is not top of our priorities."
A Buckingham Palace spokesman declined to comment.
The law was passed to ensure that all future monarchs would be Protestants, after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when the Roman Catholic King James II was deposed and his Protestant daughter Mary and her Dutch husband, William of Orange, were invited to replace him.
Opposition to Catholics in Britain had its roots in Henry VIII's split from Rome in the 16th century, suspicion of the Pope and Catholic France and Spain, and a 1605 plot by Catholic gentry to blow up parliament in London.
Under the statute, male heirs to the throne automatically take precedence over women, monarchs must be Protestants and marriage to a Catholic bars royal heirs from taking the throne.
The prime minister's office said in a statement that it hoped to reform part of the law, but had no plans to drop the ban on a Roman Catholic from becoming king or queen.
"This is a complex issue," it said. "There is no question of changing the constitutional role of the monarch or of changing the role of the Church of England as the established church."
The monarch is head of the Church of England and has to be a Protestant unless the link between the Church and the state is dissolved. Continued...
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