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UK royal succession still favors male heirs

Government is reviewing rules, may change them

The impending wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton has reignited discussion about ancient royal succession rules. The impending wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton has reignited discussion about ancient royal succession rules. (Tim Hales/Associated Press)
By Sylvia Hui
Associated Press / April 17, 2011

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LONDON — Britain’s government said it has begun the process of reviewing the ancient, discriminatory rules of royal succession, so that if Prince William and Kate Middleton’s first child is a girl she would eventually become queen.

The current rule that puts boys ahead of their sisters “would strike most people as a little old-fashioned,’’ Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said.

In two weeks the prince and Middleton get married, and Clegg said many people may agree that the rules should be changed so that if the couple’s first child were a girl, she would eventually inherit the throne — even if she had a younger brother.

“I think most people in this day and age would think it’s worth considering whether we change the rules so that a baby girl could become the future monarch,’’ he told reporters. “I think that would be in keeping with the changes that are happening with society as a whole.’’

The Cabinet Office said the government accepts that some aspects of the succession rule “could be discriminatory.’’ It said the government has started discussions with British Commonwealth nations that would be directly affected by any change, but declined to release details of those talks.

William is second in line to the throne after his father, Prince Charles, who is Queen Elizabeth II’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 a brother, however much younger he was, he would have jumped above her in the line of succession.

Clegg stressed that although he is sympathetic to an overhaul of the rule, the issue is complex and any change will take a long time. Amending the succession law would require agreement and similar legal overhauls in the 15 Commonwealth countries where the British monarch is the head of state.

The thorny issue of the succession 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.

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