Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave somewhere in recent times you will know that there is to be a royal wedding this year.
Apparently someone called William from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, or William Wales as he prefers to be known, will be marrying a Ms Kate Middleton in April.
Important issues so far covered in the news include the location of the wedding (Westminster Abbey for its intimacy), the fact that the bride will travel in a car (not a fairy tale princess carriage) and that pubs will be allowed to stay open late. Oh, and we all get a day off work, which is something I suppose.
Labour MP Keith Vaz, believes that this current focus on matters royal is the ideal time to bring a bill before parliament that would look to end discrimination in the royal succession.
The Succession to the Crown Bill was given an unopposed first reading in the Commons this week but it stands little chance of becoming law because of a lack of parliamentary time
But Vaz’s bill does raise two important matters relating to the monarchy: the fact that males always take precedence over females and that Roman Catholics, or those married to Roman Catholics, cannot succeed to the throne.
Now as a republican my clear preference would be to consign the whole notion of a royal family to the historical dustbin where it belongs. The idea of a modern monarchy is, to me, an oxymoron. But that’s an argument for another day.
The Act of Settlement of 1701 sets out the way in which one king or queen succeeds another. It was designed to secure the Protestant succession at a time when there were a number of claimants to the throne, including those of the Roman Catholic faith. The Act was later extended to Scotland as a result of the Treaty of Union enacted in the Acts of Union of 1707.
The Act specifies that no Roman Catholic, or anyone married to a Roman Catholic, can hold the English Crown. The Sovereign has to swear to maintain the Church of England, and after 1707, the Church of Scotland.
Three hundred years later this legislation is still in force. The position of monarch can legally be held by a Sikh, a Muslim, a Scientologist or someone with no religious belief at all. But not by a Roman Catholic.
There can simply be no justification for such a discriminatory provision.
If we have to have a monarchy then it should at least operate under the same form of equal opportunities and non-discriminatory framework that we would expect of any other institution.
A ban on members of one religion and one religion only from holding an office, even a discredited hereditary one, has to be abolished as soon as possible.