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Could Prince William's first-born daughter be first in line for the throne?

January 18, 2011 |  1:31 pm

Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton

Prince William and Kate Middleton aren't having a baby just yet -- heck, the royal wedding isn't until April 29 -- but lawmakers in Britain are once again considering making it possible that a first-born girl might move to the head of the line to rule the Commonwealth as its queen.

Members of Britain's coalition government "have already accepted that the provisions of the Act of Settlement might be discriminatory. Discussions are underway," said Mark Harper, constitutional affairs minister.

British common law's notion of primogeniture holds that, when it comes to succession to the throne, the first male child born in a family has priority over any older sisters he might have. The 1701 Act of Settlement also makes it clear that any royal who marries a Roman Catholic loses his or her place in line for the throne. Something about protecting Protestant control of the throne, via the Church of England -- hey, ask Eddie Izzard for more info (see the video below -- there's a dash of foul language around the four-minute mark, so know what you're getting into before you click play). 

This is hardly the first time an attempt has been made to alter the centuries-old law, which has been criticized for its anti-Catholic provisions as well as its gender bias.

The queen herself gave the notion of royal gender equality her stamp of approval in the late '90s. However, the British Commonwealth includes 15 countries, each of which would have to OK the change, so it becomes a pretty complicated thing to pull off. Still, with Kate and Prince William putting a modern imprint on their wedding, the time could be ripe.

Labor Party MP Keith Vaz's current reform effort -- he used a special parliamentary procedure to get permission to introduce draft legislation -- passed its first hurdle Tuesday, but was seen as unlikely to become law because of limited parliamentary time.

Of course, if Kate and Wills, a.k.a. "second in line after my dad," were to have a boy or two first that would render any change or lack thereof moot, at least on a practical level, for the immediate future. But barring a constitutional change, the underlying "girls and Catholics to the back of the royal bus if you please" structure remains.

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--- Christie D'Zurilla

Reuters contributed to this report.

 

Photo: Souvenir mugs for the royal wedding of Britain's Prince William and Kate Middleton are pictured in a shop in central London on Tuesday. Credit: Ben Stansall / AFP/Getty Images

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