Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The line of succession and LGBT monarchs

Parliament is currently debating the Succession to the Crown Bill.  The proposed law is intended to update rules on succession to the throne of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. 

If passed, the Bill will (amongst other things) do away with the delightfully quaint concept of primogeniture, namely that a monarch’s firstborn son becomes King irrespective of whether there is an elder daughter.  It will also repeal the prohibition on a person succeeding to the Crown if he or she marries a Roman Catholic.

But what, pray tell, if a future Queen was a lesbian?  What if her child – born through surrogacy – were included in the line of succession?

These are the issues that blindside me at 3:30am many mornings….

Act of Settlement 1701

And I’m not alone.  Thankfully, some equally perspicacious Peers in the House of Lords raised just these questions during the Bill’s Report Stage last week. 

As matters currently stand, the law governing succession means only an heir to the body is included in the line of succession.  Featuring in the Act of Settlement 1701 and the Acts of Union 1707, that phrase was intended to mean a direct biological descendent of the monarch. 

Lord True, a Conservative Peer, proposed changes to the Bill that would make it crystal clear that an heir to the body could only be the product of a heterosexual marriage.  As the Hansard account of Report Stage shows, Lord True was sufficiently vexed about “emerging legislation for same-sex marriage and the techniques of surrogate childbirth” that he proposed removing a child born to either from the line of succession. 

Elton John
(no relation of Lord Elton)
His was not the lone voice in the wilderness:  Lord Elton (tragically not John), a former Conservative minister whose wife is aide to the Queen, supported the proposal.

Said Lord True:

What happens if we have a lesbian queen in a same-sex marriage who conceives using an egg implanted with donor sperm?  The law should be clear, but this is a question that has not been thought through in the Bill.”

He was only assuaged when he received confirmation existing laws meant only a Royal child born to heterosexual parents would be included in the line of succession.

Lord True didn’t go quietly, however, prophesying, “This may seem fanciful or long in the future, but I believe Parliament should reflect on it … I believe the question will inevitably arise.”

Richard I -
A gay man
So what if it does?  Will it really matter if a future King or Queen has a child with his or her same-sex partner / spouse via surrogacy?  Is it the surrogacy point that is the problem?  It must be, because it’s not as if LGBT individuals are unheard of in the Royal lineage.  William II (William Rufus) of England is widely recognised as gay.  He died without issue, but the proposals of Lords True and Elton (not John), if taken to their natural conclusion, would hold his children less entitled to succeed to the throne because of their father’s sexual orientation.  Likewise, on all counts, Richard I (the Lionheart). 

A gay or bisexual man (depicted here
as King James VI / I)

Edward II (he of the apocryphal red-hot poker inserted up his anus) had five children by Isabella of France.  He, too, is thought to have been gay.  Are his children any less entitled to participate in the line of succession by virtue of their parents' wedding having a whiff of lavender about it?  Or is the line of succession saved because he entered into a sham marriage? 

And let’s not forget James I of Great Britain, described alternatively as either gay or bisexual.  He had seven children with the woman who might or might not have been his “beard”, Anne of Denmark.  His sexuality did not end the line of succession. 

None of the nay-saying deals with the elephant in the room, namely that hereditary monarchy is unfair and elitist.  A much more relevant debate would be whether, in a modern and democratic society, anybody should be expected to defer to another simply because of accident of birth.  Given the absurdity of that system enduring, I wonder whether we don’t have better things to worry about than whether a future monarch is born to a gay King or lesbian Queen. 

In the meantime, I’m confident Lords True and Elton (not John) can rest a little easier knowing their concerns about the demise of the monarchy due to the problems visited by same-sex relationships are more “Chicken Licken’” – unwarranted fears the sky is falling - than founded in reality. 

The Succession to the Crown Bill is scheduled for its Third Reading in the House of Lords on 22 April 2013.

Here’s to the happy day when we see our first Queen and her Queen Consort, or King and his King Consort.

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