CENTURIES-old laws preventing female members of the Royal Family inheriting the throne before male siblings and heirs marrying Catholics are to be repealed.
At a meeting of the 16 leaders of the Commonwealth nations where the Queen is head of state, it was decided unanimously to overturn the legislation.
This means that the heir to the throne will be the eldest child regardless of their gender or the religion of their spouse. While the monarch will have to remain in communion with the Church of England, they will be able to marry whomever they wish.
The reforms were announced by Prime Minister David Cameron, who chaired the meeting in Perth, Australia. He described the current legislation as “at odds with the modern countries that we have become”.
Mr Cameron said: “The great strength of our constitutional approach is its ability to evolve.
“Attitudes have changed fundamentally over the centuries and some of the out-dated rules – like some of the rules of succession – just don’t make sense to us any more.
“The idea that a younger son should become monarch instead of an elder daughter simply because he is 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 have become.
“Put simply, if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were to have a little girl, that girl would one day be our Queen.”
The agreement was heralded by British Catholics.
The Most Rev Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said: “I welcome the decision. This will eliminate a point of unjust discrimination against Catholics and will be welcomed not only by Catholics but far more widely.
“At the same time I fully recognise the importance of the position of the established Church in protecting and fostering the role of faith in our society today.”
Labour MP Keith Vaz, who has tabled a Succession to the Crown Bill to the House of Commons due for its second reading in the house on November 25, said: “I welcome the speed with which the Prime Minister has brought about this momentous agreement.
“As a society that values gender equality so highly, this is a long overdue change. We will now have modern laws that fit our modern monarchy.”
However, there were also voices who spoke out against the amendments.
David Samuel, president of the Protestant Reformation Society and former rector of several Humberside parishes, argued against allowing Catholics to marry into the Royal Family.
“It is a short-sighted decision based on sentimental reasons,” he said.
“To have a Catholic head of the established Church of England is a contradiction in terms. The Protestant Church is established by law and the head of the church should be always Protestant.”
Graham Smith, from Republic, which campaigns for an elected head of state, said: “These proposals change nothing of substance, even if William and Kate have a daughter. All this fuss is about a trivial detail of a succession that may or may not happen in 70 years’ time.
“The monarchy discriminates against every man, woman and child who isn’t born into the Windsor family. To suggest that this has anything to do with equality is utterly absurd.
“In principle all children in Britain should have an equal opportunity to stand for the position of head of state. Anything short of that is an affront to the principles of equality.”
The laws upholding male primogeniture and banning Catholics from the throne are enshrined in the 1689 Bill of Rights and the 1701 Act of Settlement as well as laws in the other commonwealth nations.
The other nations affected are Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Papua New Guinea, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tuvalu, Barbados, Grenada, the Bahamas, St Lucia and the Solomon Islands.