Conflict & Justice

UK looks to change rules of succession, allowing for LGBT royals


Prince William's pregnant wife Catherine left a London hospital on December 6, 2012, four days after she was admitted for treatment for acute morning sickness. Amendments to the rules of succession are being debated in Parliament this week, including one that would allow the baby to be heir to the throne, no matter its gender.



Big changes could be on the way for Britain's royal family. Parliament will begin debate on a bill tomorrow that significantly levels the playing field for heirs to the British throne, whether they be women, gays, or married to Catholics, a step toward modernization many say is long overdue and could save the monarchy future headaches.

The Succession to the Crown Bill, which was published in December and approved by the heads of government of the Commonwealth countries in October 2011, starts it second of three readings Tuesday in the House of Commons.

The bill [PDF] includes amendments that would allow a gay heir to reign, and would modify the rules of succession to be gender-neutral so that the first child of the king and queen becomes the heir, as opposed to the first son, a tradition known as primogeniture.

The amendment comes on the heels of the decision by David Cameron's government to propose a marriage equality bill.

Labor MP Paul Flynn introduced the LGBT-friendly amendment to the Succession bill, and although he's not optimistic for his chances, others feel better about it.

More from GlobalPost: Kate Middleton photo slideshow

"One of the new clauses I am proposing is to future-proof the monarchy from charges of discrimination by giving same-sex partnerships the same validity as heterosexual ones in the rights of succession," wrote Flynn on his personal blog. "I am not optimistic that my amendments will be called but I and a few others will be ready to contribute."

Flynn's amendment also calls for parliament to allow a gay heir's same-sex spouse or civil partner to be recognized as consort, and any children born to the couple through artificial insemination or surrogacy would succeed to the throne so long as the couple are in a same-sex marriage or civil partnership, according to Pink News.

Adoption isn't currently part of the plan for heirs, regardless of the King or Queen's sexual orientation.

"In order to secure a full debate, the amendment needs to be accepted by John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons, almost certain as he is a strong supporter of LGBT rights," reports Pink News. "It is expected to have the support of many Labour, Liberal Democrats and most Conservatives that back David Cameron’s plans to introduce same-sex marriage."

Other equalizing amendments to the bill include one through which a King or Queen can marry a Catholic person, and also would allow for a Catholic heir to actually become King or Queen. However, as the King of England is also the head of the Church of England, the amendment calls for a transfer of the role of Head of the Church to a Regent, under the terms of the 1937 Regency Act, according to the BBC.

The ban on royals marrying Catholics has been on the books since the 17th century, but there is no written ban on a monarch marrying a Muslim or Jewish person, or any other religion.

More from GlobalPost: Money can’t buy love for Europe’s scandal-hit royals

BBC's Parliamentary correspondent Mark D'Arcy (who called Flynn an "awkward squaddie" in his column Sunday, whatever that means), said Tuesday's debate "could be a pretty interesting occasion, from a number of points of view."

But D'Arcy also noted that leaders may be resistant to substantive amendments because "the terms of the bill have had to be worked out in close collaboration with the other Commonwealth countries who have the Queen as their head of state."

Many royal watchers see this move as a long-needed step in the right direction, a modernizing idea that reflects the youthful energy of the soon-to-be newest member of the royal family and it's parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

"It was the marriage… of Prince William and Kate Middleton, now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, that accelerated the change," said the New York Times after the Commonwealth Countries accepted the idea of changes to the rules of succession. "Their wedding spurred a widespread sense that the young couple, by bringing a more contemporary influence to the royal court, are likely to have a far-reaching, if not determinate, impact on the monarchy’s future."

How far-reaching the changes will ultimately end up being is anyone's guess, but Flynn doesn't see it happening.

"My hope of a free open debate is on a protozoan level," wrote Flynn on his blog. "Fixers will deny an adult discussion. Confronted by royalty, Parliament becomes infantilized and squirms and fawns like a nursery class meeting Santa Claus." 

For more of GlobalPost's coverage of LGBT rights, check out our Special Report "The Rainbow Struggle: A Global Battle Over Gay Rights."