A Shakeup in the British Royal Household?

By EMILY WITHER, ABC News London

Buckingham Palace is in talks with Prime Minister Gordon Brown about rewriting the royal laws when it comes to marriage and succession to the throne.

As the law stands now, if Prince William decides not to marry Kate Middleton, his on-off girlfriend of seven years, he could wed anyone he wishes as long as she is not a Roman Catholic. If he did decide to marry a Catholic, he would lose his chance to become king of England.

This dates back to a 300-year-old rule from the 1701 Act of Settlement stating that if a royal converts to Catholicism or marries a Catholic, the royal cannot succeed to the throne.

Brown hopes to scrap the archaic rulings, saying he finds them discriminatory and out-of-place in the 21st century.

The prime minister also said it’s time to stop the discrimination against female heirs. Currently, precedence is given to male  heirs over their female counterparts, and princesses are superseded by younger male siblings. 

Under the proposals, which could come into force next year, the royal line would take on a new order, and Princess Ann would move from 10th in line to the throne to fourth.

But there would be no change to the constitutional role of the monarch or the Church of England as the established church.

An overhaul of the rules is going to take a long time. The Queen ought to get the blessing of every country of which she is a head of state, such as Canada and Australia. It’s thought Brown will bring the topic up at the commonwealth leader’s summit in November, which The Queen will attend,  a spokesman at No. 10 Downing Street told ABC News.com

"People expect the government to look at issues of discrimination. The laws concerning marriage to Catholics and the primacy of male members of the royal family should change, but that can only happen with the agreement of the palace.”

MPs in the House of Commons debate a private members bill later today, suggesting changes. The Queen had to grant permission for the debate to take place, but Brown isn’t backing the bill. 

The spokesman from Downing Street told ABC News.com that the government is keen to begin discussions with Buckingham Palace. But Brown recognizes that changes cannot happen overnight, and this is why he’s not supporting the bill today. 

Similar reviews have already been made for the royal families of Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden.

It looks as if Brits think its time for a change too. A survey, by ICM for the BBC, showed 89 percent of voters backed giving female heirs equal succession rights and 81 percent believed heirs who married Catholics should still be able to succeed to the throne.

Buckingham Palace refused to comment on the proposals, saying it was a matter for the government.

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