Demands to reform the Monarchy are nothing to do with equality
It has become a very wide bandwagon with limitless carriages, and virtually everyone is jumping aboard. And if you’re not, you’re either mediaeval or bigoted, or both. And so politicians of all persuasions, prelates of all complexions and even the Queen herself apparently favour reform.
One should hold the last one very loosely, for ‘talking to Buckingham Palace’ and ‘advisers tell contacts who tell journalists’ are not quite the same as being invited for tea and cake at Windsor Castle to hear it straight from Her Majesty’s mouth.
Once again, the Act of Settlement 1701 is in the firing line: not this time primarily because of its ‘anti-Catholic bigotry’, but because of sexist primogeniture: the right, by law or custom, of the firstborn male to inherit the throne. Since the monarch is no longer a military protector, testosterone is incidental. And since also the mystical fusion of priests with kings is long gone, there are no sacred instruments which females are forbidden to touch.
Nick Clegg rather foolishly insists that reform is now of the upmost priority because Prince William and Catherine Middleton may soon have a baby, and the reform must be in place before he or she is born.
Their firstborn immediately becomes third in line to the throne whether the child is male or female: it is only the advent of the second-born which creates an issue, and that event must be at least a couple of years off being ‘pressing’. And even then, it’s only an issue of the firstborn is a girl: if the couple have a boy first, the whole discussion can be kicked into the long grass for another generation.
But it’s not only Nick Clegg: David Cameron is now aboard, and so is ConservativeHome.
And so is Daniel Hannan.
This is not a ride on the latest Harry Potter theme park: it is foundational constitutional stuff. It is bizarre indeed that Burkean Conservatives should be queuing to support these reforms which are nothing to do with ‘equality’ and everything to do with secularism and (eventually) republicanism. Of course (pace Dr Evan Harris) these destinations will be denied. But it is interesting indeed that ‘Human Rights’ are invoked and the issue is presented as one of injustice. Discrimination against Roman Catholics in the laws of marriage is indeed contrary to Article 14 of the ECHR, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, in conjunction with Article 12, which provides a right for men and women to marry. It is also arguably contrary to the freedom of religion of Roman Catholics protected by Article 9. In relation to male primogeniture in the law of inheritance, it is contrary to Article 14 in conjunction with Article 1 Protocol 1.113.
But the Head of State is the Monarch, and the Monarch is Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and the Supreme Governor of the Church of England may not be a Roman Catholic or married to one. That is the Constitution of the United Kingdom (along with Antigua & Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu). To insist that the Supreme Governor of the Church of England must be in communion with the Church of England is as sensible as insisting that the Pope must be Roman Catholic. Is the Act of Settlement really more offensively discriminatory than Article 1125 of Roman Catholic Canon Law? Is not discrimination inherent in the very concept of religious adherence?
Dr Evan Harris despises the Church of England and appears to criticise it at every turn. Doubtless he knows what he’s doing to further his atheist-humanist-secularist-gay agenda. But those Conservatives who demand reform apparently do not. They fail to realise that the matter does not only concern the Act of Settlement 1701, but a number of other acts, including the Bill of Rights (1688), the Coronation Oaths Act (1688), the Crown in Parliament Act (1689), the Act of Union (1707), and the Royal Marriages Act (1772). And it is the Act of Union (1707) which ought to be of primary concern to Unionist Conservatives.
The Act of Settlement was passed by the old English parliament, which ceased to exist in 1707. The Act was also arguably incompetent, since the English parliament could not unilaterally decide on the British Regal Union of 1603-1707. The Scottish parliament recognised this fact, and deliberately countered the Act of Settlement with a Scottish settlement Act - the Act of Security of 1704. The Act of Settlement 1701 was superseded by the Treaty of Union 1707, which, in Article 2, also prohibits Roman Catholics ascending the throne of the United Kingdom. The Treaty of Union 1707 is the founding charter of the United Kingdom. Tamper with this, and the Union is imperilled.
This is why successive prime ministers of the United Kingdom and Unionist Scottish secretaries of state have no intention of ending the ban on the Monarch either being a Roman Catholic or married to one, and why they are quite happy to let historically-ignorant and politically-ill-informed people like Dr Evan Harris continue harping on about the Act of Settlement 1701.
David Cameron is right to point out that reform will take years: it is a spider's web, can of worms, knot of vipers and a house of cards all rolled into one. It may even prove a Gordian Knot. The unintended consequences will make House of Lords reform seem like a walk in the park, because the reform will, as sure as night follows day, lead to disestablishment and a secular republic.
If this were about equality, it ought to be observed that it is not only Roman Catholics who are discriminated against, but those who are born out of wedlock. Such children are no longer referred to as bastards, and even ‘illegitimate’ would fall foul of the PC police. In an era in which marriage is falling out of fashion and more than half of children are born every year to unmarried or single parents, why should the state perpetuate the absurd, ‘old fashioned’ belief that children born out of wedlock are ‘second-class citizens’, incapable of inheriting?
As ever, Shakespeare considered the point, and Edmund reasons:
Thou, nature, art my goddess; to thy law
My services are bound. Wherefore should I
Stand in the plague of custom, and permit
The curiosity of nations to deprive me,
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moon-shines
Lag of a brother? Why bastard? wherefore base?
When my dimensions are as well compact,
My mind as generous, and my shape as true,
As honest madam's issue? Why brand they us
With base? with baseness? bastardy? base, base?
Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take
More composition and fierce quality
Than doth, within a dull, stale, tired bed,
Go to the creating a whole tribe of fops,
Got 'tween asleep and wake? Well, then,
Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land:
Our father's love is to the bastard Edmund
As to the legitimate: fine word,--legitimate!
Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed,
And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
Shall top the legitimate. I grow; I prosper:
Now, gods, stand up for bastards!
So, to all who favour reform of 'old fashioned' attitudes, why stop at Roman Catholics and women? Doesn’t equality equally demand that you ‘stand up for bastards’?