Leaders of the 16 countries that recognize the British monarch as their head of state agreed Friday that a firstborn daughter ought to be able to ascend the throne even if she has younger brothers. The proposed change to the rules of royal succession that have prevailed for centuries will now make its way through the legal process of all 16 countries, among them Australia, Canada and a number of small island nations (Britain included).
The legislation would apply to all heirs of Prince Charles, the (firstborn) son of the reigning Queen Elizabeth II and the current heir to the throne. In effect, the change would begin with the children of Charles' son William, second in line to the throne, who married Middleton, his college sweetheart and a commoner, in April.
The leaders of the 16 countries also agreed that an embarrassing rule forbidding a monarch or heir to marry a Catholic ought to be scrapped.
"The idea that a younger son should become monarch instead of an elder daughter simply because he’s 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’ve all become," British Prime Minister David Cameron said in a speech in Perth, Australia, at a conference of Commonwealth countries.
He didn't say whether "modern countries" ought to have non-elected dynastic rulers at all.
[Updated 10:17 a.m., Oct. 28: Alex Salmond, Scotland's first minister, said that although he welcomed the likely lifting of the ban on Roman Catholic spouses for royal heirs, he found it “deeply disappointing” that Catholics were still banned from ascending to the throne.
"It surely would have been possible to find a mechanism which would have protected the status of the Church of England without keeping in place an unjustifiable barrier on the grounds of religion in terms of the monarchy," Salmond told the BBC. "It is a missed opportunity not to ensure equality of all faiths when it comes to the issue of who can be head of state."]
Although ending the sexism of the law of succession has been mooted in Britain for more than 50 years, the issue has become more urgent now that Prince William has married and a new generation of royal progeny is in the offing.
Cameron told reporters that "the time has come to change the rule so that if the royal couple have a girl rather than a boy, then that little girl will be our queen."
-- Henry Chu
Photo: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Queen Elizabeth II watch the opening ceremonies at a meeting of the Commonwealth in Perth, Australia. Credit: John Donegan / AFP/Getty Images