Insights from the UK and beyond
Reform of UK’s monarchy laws – enlightened or meddling?
Discussions between the British premier and monarch to reverse religious discriminatory laws going back 300 years have sparked consternation in a conservative newspaper while attracting little response from the Roman Catholic church.
Proposed changes of the 1701 Act of Settlement would allow a future king or queen to marry a Roman Catholic, but would still preclude a royal of that faith becoming monarch.
It would also give female heirs an equal claim to the throne.
Nevertheless, Steve Doughty writing an analysis piece in the Daily Mail suggested it was an attack on Britain’s constitution, heralding the end of the monarchy as we know it and the Church of England.
“The trouble with pulling down pillars of the constitution is that you never know what may fall with them,” he wrote.
“Tinkering with either the 18th century law or the principle of primogeniture would put a question mark over the future of the monarchy, at a time when its popularity has been rocky.”
He said repealing the Act may lead to calls for a return of the Catholic Stuart dynasty.
The Stuarts were chased off the throne in 1688, paving the way for the arrival in 1714 of the Hanoverian dynasty with George I, the monarch from whom the present Queen is descended, he wrote.
“The remnants of the Stuart dynasty now living in southern Germany might feel they had a better claim to the throne,” he said.
Doughty also suggested the Church of England’s status could be under threat, as it is “knotted deeply together with that of parliament and the monarchy in centuries of constitutional law and practice”.
“The church crowns the monarch and the monarch is supreme governor of the church. Neither role could continue were the church to be disestablished.”
His colleague Harry Phibbs writing on the newspaper’s Web site, suggested it was all a smokescreen by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to distract the electorate from the current economic chaos in the country.
Branding it as “New Labour meddling”, he went on to say that “the whole change would be a great legislative indulgence”.
“Legislation would need to be passed in every Commonwealth country giving ample scope for republican elements to try and make mischief,” he wrote.
“This would be an enormous distraction.”
The law was drawn up at a time of widespread hostility towards Roman Catholics, cemented by decades of mutual suspicion.
In the meantime, an individual in the line of succession to the throne can have a civil partnership with a Catholic and can marry a Muslim or atheist, the Liberal Democrats point out.
It is time for reform, Brown said.
Yet the Roman Catholic Church, while supporting such a move, thinks there are more important issues facing the country.
A spokesman for the Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor said: “It is anachronistic and discriminatory and he is sure it will be repealed at some point.
“However, it is not something that the church is actively lobbying for. It is not top of our priorities.”