Friday, March 27, 2009

Prime Minister Gordon Brown backs ending ban on royal Catholics

LONDON (AP) — British monarchs should be allowed to marry Roman Catholics, the government said Friday — endorsing the idea of lifting a ban on Catholic royals but at the same time refusing to back legislation to do just that.

The proposed bill would also end the custom of putting males ahead of females in the line of royal succession. Queen Elizabeth II succeeded her father, King George VI, because he had no sons.

But Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government said changing the law is complex, and more time was needed to consult with nations in the British Commonwealth — some of which recognize the British monarch as their head of state.

"I don't want to bring forward a precise timescale," Justice Secretary Jack Straw told lawmakers. "But this is an issue we are going to pursue, including with Commonwealth governments."

The bill was introduced in the House of Commons by Liberal Democratic lawmaker Evan Harris, who said he believed "the fundamental basis on which our constitution should be run is one that doesn't include unjustified discrimination."

The bill was effectively dead on arrival, however, as the government would not make time in the parliamentary calendar for it to complete the steps to passage. Straw said he though the matter was unlikely to be resolved before the next general elections, to be held before mid-2010.

Buckingham Palace declined to comment, saying the issue was a matter for the government.

Brown told reporters traveling with him in Brazil that the issue needed to be solved.

"I think in the 21st century people do expect discrimination to be removed," Brown said.

The Act of Settlement of 1700 bars any Catholic or anyone married to a Catholic from succeeding to the throne.