British Prime Minister David Cameron said Friday that the 16 Commonwealth countries for which Queen Elizabeth II is monarch have agreed to remove gender discrimination in the order of succession to the throne.
Commonwealth national leaders also agreed at a summit in the west coast city of Perth to lift a ban on monarchs marrying Roman Catholics, he said.
Any one of the former British colonies could have vetoed the changes to the centuries-old rules that ensure that a male heir takes the thrown ahead of older sisters.
“Attitudes have changed fundamentally over the centuries and some of the outdated rules like some of the rules of succession just don’t make sense to us any more,” Cameron told reporters in Perth.
“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,” he added.
Britain’s government began the process of reviewing the rules of royal succession so that if Prince William’s first child is a girl, she would eventually become queen. The review started before William married commoner Kate Middleton in April.
William is second in line to the throne after his father, Prince Charles, who is the queen’s first-born child. Charles’ sister Anne is lower in the line of succession than her younger brothers Andrew and Edward. Charles, in turn, had only sons, William and Harry.
Elizabeth II succeeded her father, King George VI, because he had no sons. If she had had a brother, however much younger he was, he would have jumped above her in the line of succession.
The thorny issue of the succession has been an on-and-off topic in Britain, but has never been resolved. In 2009, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government considered a bill that would end the custom of putting males ahead of females in the succession line, as well as lift a ban on British monarchs marrying Roman Catholics. The government did not have time to pursue it before Brown’s term ended.
The rule has excluded women from succeeding to the throne in the past. Queen Victoria’s first child was a daughter also called Victoria but it was her younger brother who succeeded to the throne, as King Edward VII.
Buckingham Palace has always refrained from commenting on the political issue, saying it’s a matter for the government to decide.