New government legislation will soon allow Catholics to marry heirs to the throne. The changes comes as part of reforms that will also allow a first-born daughter to succeed to the British throne.
In October 2011, Commonwealth leaders unanimously agreed to remove the centuries-old gender discrimination rule that favours first-born sons over older daughters in the order of succession to the throne. On the day in which Prince William, second in line to the throne, and his wife, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, announced that they are expecting their first child, a government spokesman confirmed that while the new law has not yet been introduced in the British Parliament, it is already de facto law, and William and Kate’s first child will be able to succeed to the throne whether it is a girl or a boy.
The Commonwealth leaders also agreed to lift a ban on the monarch being married to a Roman Catholic. According to the Act of Settlement, only Protestant members of the Royal Family who are descendants of Princess Sophia (1630-1714), the Electress of Hanover, a granddaughter of James I, can be considered for the throne.
The sovereign is required to take an oath to defend the Church of England and the Church of Scotland. A Roman Catholic remains disqualified from succession to the throne.
There are more than 900 people in line for the British throne; the first 510 on the list are descended from Queen Victoria (1819-1901).
Before her 2008 marriage to Peter Phillips, who as the oldest son of the Princess Royal is 11th in line to the throne, the then Autumn Kelly converted from Catholicism to Anglicanism.
Thirty years earlier, Prince Michael of Kent, the Queen’s cousin, renounced his position in the line of succession in order to marry the then Baroness Marie-Christine von Reibnitz, a Roman Catholic divorcee.
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