The move to bring equality to the laws of succession has taken a strange twist as an MP has proposed legislation that would prevent the Duchess of Cambridge from ever becoming Queen.
John Hemming, MP, is attempting to add a clause to the Succession to the Crown Bill that would mean HRH would be called “Princess consort” rather than Queen when Prince William ascends to the throne.
The proposed amendment is based on allegations that the current system is ‘sexist’ since it allows the wife of a King to be called Queen but it does not allow the husband of a queen to be called King. Mr Hemming said: “It’s not right that a Queen Regnant is treated as less important than a King Regnant.”
Later this month Mr Hemming will be officially tabling his proposed amendment. If the House of Commons agrees to add it to the Succession Bill, then the royal family could become the first victims of the equality measures they have tacitly supported.
A spokesman from Clarence House said, “It’s a matter for the Government”, suggesting that the royal couple is prepared to acquiesce with whatever Parliament decides.
Any changes will not affect Camilla because Prince Charles has already said she will be Princess Consort because of the complications of their past divorces.
Meanwhile, the media continues to promote the idea that the rules governing the laws of succession have already been changed to allow first-born daughters to inherit the crown ahead of younger brothers. (See section below for more information on what these changes involve and why we are against them.) The Royal Central website has announced that “Until 2011, men had priority over any women in the line of succession, this was changed after a commonwealth heads of government meeting in 2011, meaning whatever gender the Royal baby is, it will definitely reign as King or Queen.”
The truth is that The Succession of the Crown Bill has only had its first reading, which took place on 13 December 2012. (Watch the progress of the bill on Parliament’s website here.) Beyond that, all that has happened is that the heads of state for the various Commonwealth realms have all individually agreed to ask their respective governments to pass legislation in favour of these changes. Between now and when those laws finish passing through the parliamentary process is the time for critical debate. The British government is trying to short-circuit all debate by telling everyone that the changes have already been made and that the final legislative process is merely “a few parliamentary turns of the wheel.”
PRAY: Ever since it emerged that Government was planning to tamper with the succession changes, Christian Voice has been warning that this is a slippery slope. Even a year ago it would have been unthinkable for the Duchess of Cambridge to face the prospect of never becoming Prince William’s Queen. But once the Pandora’s box of gender equality has been opened, we have entered a fairy tale world in which almost anything could come about. Pray that the Lord will protect the monarchy from those who would seek to use the rhetoric of equality to disband the monarchy completely.
Also pray that the Duchess has conceived a boy so that all the hype the hassle about having to quickly change the succession laws would die down.
WRITE to your MP asking him/her to vote against Hemming’s proposed amendment. Ask for your concerns to be forwarded to the appropriate minister. Also write to Her Majesty the Queen and ask her to voice opposition to these proposals. Her Majesty The Queen, to Buckingham Palace, London SW1A 1AA.
The Order of Succession and the Current Debate
The “order of succession” is the procedure regulated by Parliamentary statute for determining who the new monarch will be at the time the old one dies. The current laws regulating the order of succession follow a system known as ‘male primogeniture’, which is short for “male preference cognatic primogeniture.” Halsbury’s Laws of England explain this system as follows:
“In the absence of statutory limitations, therefore, the Crown would descend lineally to the issue of the reigning monarch, males being preferred to females, and subject to the right of primogeniture amongst both males and females of equal degree, whilst children would represent their deceased ancestors ‘per stirpes in infinitum.’ Upon failure of lineal descendants, the Crown would pass under the rule to the nearest collateral relation descended from the blood royal.”
Put simply, this means that younger sons take precedence over their older sisters in line for the throne. A woman will only inherit the throne of Britain if she has no eligible male siblings. A younger brother – no matter how young – will always take precedent over older sisters in the order of succession. Given the system of male primogeniture, our present queen became monarch only because she did not have any brothers. Similarly, Queen Victoria (1819 –1901) was only able to inherit the throne because she had been the only child of Edward, Duke of Kent and Victoria Maria Louisa of Saxe-Coburg. Under the present system, if Prince William and Catherine’s first-born child happens to be a daughter, she would only become a direct heir to the throne if she is not later followed by the birth of a male brother.
An example of a younger brother inheriting the throne ahead of a younger sister occurred when Queen Victoria’s son Edward VII inherited the throne in 1901 over his older sister Princess Victoria. Had Princess Victoria become the next queen, she would have been Queen Victoria II while her son, Kaiser Wilhelm II, would likely have been king over a huge British-German Empire.
Those who oppose the present system have pointed to the changes introduced in the succession laws of other European monarchies which have transitioned over to the system of absolute primogeniture. For example, Sweden changed over to absolute primogeniture in 1980, the Netherlands in 1983, Norway in 1990, Belgium in 1991, Denmark in 2009 and Luxembourg in 2011.
While the previous Labour Government supported a change from male primogeniture to absolute primogeniture, this had not been considered an issue of any urgency. This is because a change in the law would affect neither Prince Charles (the current heir to the throne), nor Prince William (the second in line for the throne) since neither of them have older sisters. It was not until the lead-up to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton that the issue was again thrust into the national limelight. Policy makers began to speculate what would happen if the royal couple’s first-born child happened to be a female. Wouldn’t it be unfair if such a child was not able to enjoy an equal right to the throne? Shouldn’t Britain change its laws to reflect “modern” values such as “equality” and “fairness”?
The debate culminated at the Commonwealth of Nations summit in Australia on 28 October 2011 when David Cameron sought agreement from the heads of the Commonwealth realms to change the rules. He had prepared the ground by writing a letter earlier in the month to all the countries urging them to support a change and suggesting that present rules “enshrine male superiority.”
The reason it was necessary for the UK Government to consult with the sixteen Commonwealth realms is because the law prevents the British Parliament from making unilateral changes to the rules of succession without first getting approval of the other nations that share the crown.
Despite the fact that the individual governments have not yet had a chance to vote on the proposed changes, both the media and the British Government have been talking about the matter as if the changes have already been introduced. For example, on 29 October 2011, the Daily Mail ran an article with the dramatic title: ‘If Wills and Kate have a girl first, she’ll be queen! Commonwealth agrees historic change to give sex equality in Royal succession.’
It has been a shrewd tactical move on the part of the media and the British Government to keep telling everyone that the succession laws have already been changed. Now that it is approaching the time for a vote, the Government is telling members of Parliament that they must merely ratify what has already been agreed. What should in fact be an occasion of robust debate will be presented as a mere formality. This is a point that Telegraph journalist Charles Moore picked up upon in an article in December 2011, when he drew attention to the ‘widespread delusion’ that the laws had already been changed and predicted the events that are nor transpiring.
“There is a widespread delusion, I find, that the succession to the throne has been changed. If William and Kate have a first-born daughter, people think, that girl will be Queen.… It’s all been sorted out, apparently. There will be what is called – without any apparent sense of absurdity – a Royal Equality Act, and then Bob’s your uncle (though your poor uncle Bob, if currently in line to the throne, will now have to give place to your first-born aunt).
It is not surprising that people think this, because that is what they have been told to think.
It is being put together semi-secretly, and our Government will not disclose the legal advice it is receiving. It is also, in spirit, imperialist: the British Government decides, and then tries to push all the ‘lesser’ countries into agreeing.
When the reforms do eventually reach the 16 parliaments, the government line will be that this has all been agreed and so legislators should just nod it through. The Queen may be embarrassed, but since, constitutionally, she can act only on the advice of her ministers, she will be powerless. At this point, any self-respecting Member of Parliament would be entitled to say: ‘Wait a minute! You are trying to change the rules by which our head of state is chosen and controlled. Is this good for her and her heirs? Is it good for our country? I am going to ask some difficult questions.’”
So why are we against changing the laws of succession? There are a number of reasons, but the main reason is that we find all the arguments for changing the law woefully lacking. Though the rhetoric against male primogeniture takes a variety of forms, it usually always reduces to one of four arguments. Although each of these four arguments has a prima facie appeal, as we unpack each one it will become apparent that they are based either on factual misunderstanding or faulty reasoning. Even more crucially, three out of these four arguments threaten to undermine the very existence of the monarchy itself.
Faulty Argument # 1: The current succession laws are out of keeping with modern society
Advocates of absolute primogeniture typically avoid appealing to any objective ethical criteria but instead argue on the grounds that the current system is “old fashioned” or “out of keeping with modern society.” For example, deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has commented:
“Prince William and Catherine Middleton might have a baby daughter for instance as their first child, I think most people in this day and age would think it’s worth considering whether we change the rules so that that baby girl then could become the future monarch.
“I think that would be in keeping with the changes that happen in society as a whole. My own personal view is that in this day and age the idea that only a man should ascend to the throne I think would strike most people as a little old-fashioned. I think it is worth thinking about, I think it is worth talking about. It is worth looking at what other countries that would be affected also feel on the subject.”
Notice that Clegg’s personal view is based, not on reasoned argument, but on an appeal to being up to date and modern. He appeals twice to “this day and age” and suggests that the current system may be “a little old-fashioned.” Mr Clegg is not alone. Keith Vaz, MP, echoed the opinion of many when he referred to the laws as “out-dated”and stated in Parliament that
“Whereas [male-preference primogeniture] might have been acceptable in another age, I believe that at this time in our history Britain is a modern…society and that this ought to be reflected in our succession rules…. We have a 21st century monarch and we need 21st century succession rules to match.”
Finally, when David Cameron announced the changes at the Commonwealth of Nations conference, he also appealed to the need to be modern as if this alone furnished the only justification required for changing the laws:
“Attitudes have changed fundamentally over the centuries and some outdated rules, like some of the rules on succession, just don’t make sense to us anymore.”
“The idea that a younger son should become monarch instead of an elder daughter simply because he is a man… – this way of thinking is at odds with the modern countries that we have become.”
In reality, it is completely false that male primogeniture is out of keeping with the twenty-first century, since the royal houses in Spain, Monaco, Thailand, Portugal and Swaziland all follow the same system of male primogeniture as Britain. But even if this were not the case, the appeal to modernity is plagued with a host of problems. Chief among these problems is that it presupposes a chronological criterion of truth by which ideas and policies are being evaluated, not by the standard of right or wrong, truth or falsehood, but according to whether they are antiquated or modern. Such an approach can often be effective in creating prejudice against an idea through false assumptions, thus siphoning the debate away from more objective criteria. Herbert Schlossberg described the psychology that occurs in this process of creating prejudice through hidden assumptions:
“No serious thought can be constructed without assumptions, but recognizing them – in our own thinking as well as in others is vital if we are to avoid falling into serious error. Assumptions are beliefs; if they were proven they would not be assumptions. And they are beliefs so taken for granted that it is not deemed necessary to prove them. That makes them doubly seductive: first, because the careless or untrained are misled into accepting conclusions without recognizing their shaky foundation of unstated beliefs; and second, the very fact that the most dubious beliefs are so taken for granted by experts lends an aura of verisimilitude that beguiles the overly respectful into accepting them without question.” Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction: The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture (Crossway, 1993), 8.
The chronological criterion of truth is just such a hidden assumption. C.S. Lewis called this type of reasoning “chronological snobbery” and described it as “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.” Lewis went on to point out that
You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how
conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also “a period,” and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them. [C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1995), 201.]
If Lewis’s words are applied to the question of our succession laws, it follows that it is insufficient for our leaders to merely assert that some of the rules on succession are old fashion and just don’t make sense in our modern world. We must find out why these rules no longer make sense, and whether the reason for them no longer making sense is rational or not.
More seriously, the hidden set of assumptions which animate Faulty Argument #1 could threaten the very existence of the monarchy itself. Those who have sought to spread the poison of republicanism throughout the Commonwealth have often done so with similar appeals to “this day and age”, suggesting that the monarchy itself is out of date and a relic from the past. If the chronological criterion of truth is allowed to flourish when it comes to changing the order of succession, it may be only a matter of time before the same principle begins buttressing those who wish to challenge the very institution of the monarchy.
Few people have bothered to ask why the appeal to “modernity” settles the issue and removes the need for critical reflection. One of the only people, outside those of us at Christian Voice, who has been asking these difficult questions is journalist Charles Moore. In an article for the Telegraph on 7 December, Moore wrote:
When I spoke to ministers this week to ask why it was good to change the succession to the British throne, I was told that it was “modern”, as if that settled the argument.
Most people will probably be too polite to contest the Government’s proposal that the firstborn child of the monarch, or of his/her heirs, will henceforth succeed to the throne regardless of sex. But what is “modern” about a system which prefers the firstborn over any other child? Why is that not being changed? When I asked this question, no one could give me an answer. What is “modern”, indeed, about the idea that the British head of state should be appointed because of blood at all? In what sense is the principle of monarchy modern? Did the Queen get where she is today, the most popular and respected person in the country, by being modern?
Similarly, it is “modern”, say ministers, that the proposed Bill will abolish the rule that no one in line to the throne may marry a Roman Catholic. Yet it would not be modern, apparently, to get rid of the law which says that the Sovereign must be in communion with the Church of England. That law will stay. According to “modern” logic, why?
When they made their bids for leadership, Tony Blair and David Cameron put a great deal of weight on the m-word. It separated them in people’s minds from the long-standing defects of their own parties, and gave them a non-ideological excuse for cleaning the slate….
Faulty Argument # 2: Most people want the succession laws to be changed
In addition to suggesting that male primogeniture is “old-fashioned,” Mr Clegg has also appealed to what “most people” supposedly want. This was implicit in his comment that the current system may strike “most people as a little old-fashioned.” Others have argued against male primogeniture on similar grounds, as if the legitimacy of the practice is automatically thrown into question as soon as a majority are against it. For example, when Mr Vaz was arguing for a change of law in Parliament, he commented, “The reality is that the public want more women to take high office”and pointed out that the majority of citizens allegedly support absolute primogeniture.
Creating policy by majority opinion is a dangerous way to conduct the business of Government. If this impulse were followed to its logical extension, the UK would ultimately collapse into the type of direct democracy attempted by the ancient Athenians.
Once majority opinion is taken to be even implicitly authoritative, then does the legitimacy of the monarchy itself become dependent on 51% of the vote? This was the view reflected by journalist Peregrine Worsthorne when he said, “If a majority of the nation wanted to put an end to monarchy, then, of course, it ought to go.”
Reports indicate that in some Commonwealth countries a majority of the population may already be sceptical of the monarchy. If this is the case, then giving in to the populist impulse with regard to primogeniture may set off a chain reaction that could have unintended consequences. As Daniel Martin has observed, “there are fears that the change [in succession laws] could fuel the republican movement in Australia, where campaigners could use the opportunity to amend legislation to oust the Queen.”In Jamaica the situation is even more unpredictable. Even Britain itself has a virulent anti-monarchy lobby that will use any opportunity – including a public discussion of the succession laws – to challenge the legitimacy of the crown.
Faulty Argument #3: The Current Succession laws are ‘sexist’ and discriminate against women.
Perhaps the most common argument for changing the succession laws is that of equality. Stated crudely, it just isn’t fair that males should take precedent over females in the succession to the throne. In a society committed to equal rights, isn’t it hypocritical for the law to give males a greater chance of inheriting the throne than females? Surely it would be more fair for both sexes to have an equal chance at the crown. Keith Vaz MP gave voice to these sentiments in January 2011:
“At the centre of this debate is a great principle: gender equality…. Our country leads the way in equality issues, and that should be reflected in our succession rules…. Sex discrimination has been illegal in the United Kingdom since 1975. Some 35 years after the passage of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, Britain’s employers must ensure equality between the sexes. Those who break the law are rightly punished. The Bill attempts to bring such gender equality into our succession rules.”
Mr. Vaz words were echoed in David Cameron’s letter to the Commonwealth countries, in which he wrote that “We espouse gender equality in all other aspects of life and it is an anomaly that in the rules relating to the highest public office we continue to enshrine male superiority.”
It is hard not to have some sympathy for this line of reasoning, which is certainly more compelling than Faulty Arguments #1 and #2. Analysts have identified the sense of fairness as being one of the core ethical values embedded within the human intuition. Women especially may feel that the current succession rules are a case of institutionalized discrimination against their sex.
Before exploring the problems with the equality argument, we should note that those who make this objection often over-exaggerate the extent to which the current system excludes women from the throne. Telegraph writer Gerald Warner rightly pointed out in 2009 that
…the present succession rules do not originate in the Act of Settlement, but in our ancient history and tradition. Nor do they effectively discriminate against women. In the period since the Act was passed, we have been ruled by men for 174 years and by women for 134 years.
But while male-preference primogeniture does not prevent a woman from ruling, it always ensures that it will be statistically more probable that a man will inherit the throne. So the question arises: is this a form of institutionalized inequality and gender discrimination? The short answer is yes. However, if we consider the nature of equality we soon find that it is far from obvious that gender discrimination is always a bad thing.
In his book The Retreat of Reason: Political Correctness and the Corruption of Public Debate in Modern Britain, Anthony Browne showed that gender discrimination is not only accepted in many instances, but many times is necessary, laudable and defensible. Browne wrote:
“Young men pay higher rates for car insurance than young women and older men, because young men are, on average, more dangerous drivers than young women and older men. A young man who is a safe driver is thus discriminated against because of the characteristics of other people in his age and sex group….Anti-discrimination campaigners may publicly declare that all discrimination on the grounds of sex should be outlawed, but they are unlikely to agree that all men should have the right to use women’s toilets, that men should be allowed to go to women’s gyms, or to demand overturning the right of women’s clothes shops to refuse to employ men….Men pay smaller pension contributions than women for a given level of private pension, for the simple reason that, on average, they have shorter lives and so on average claim less….The various forms of rational discrimination that are widely accepted are not often called discrimination – although that is clearly what they are – because accepting that some discrimination is actually essential to the working of a society would undermine the public acceptance of a ‘zero tolerance of all forms of discrimination’. The war on discrimination would become meaningless if there were general public awareness that actually some forms of discrimination are needed.”
Given that many forms of gender discrimination are publically practiced and acceptable in modern Britain, we are in a position to identify the basic flaw in the equality argument against male-preference primogeniture. This will be easier to do if we reduce the argument to a simple syllogism:
- All gender discrimination is wrong.
- Male primogeniture is a case of gender discrimination.
- Therefore, male primogeniture is wrong.
The argument follows a classic form and is structurally valid. That is, the conclusion necessarily follows from the first two premises. However, in order for an argument to be sound, it must not only be logically valid, but the premises must also be factually accurate. In the case of the above syllogism, premise 1 is actually false. While some forms of gender discrimination are wrong, Mr Browne is correct when he notes that many forms of gender discrimination are also necessary and justifiable. In fact, our public policy assumes that there are many legitimate forms of discrimination. Thus, David Cameron’s statement that “We espouse gender equality in all other aspects of life” is simply not true.
Gender discrimination simply means treating a person differently than you would if that person were a different sex. For example, when a man dates a woman he is, in a sense, ‘discriminating’ since he would not offer the same treatment to members of his own gender category, assuming he is a heterosexual. In short, there are many cases where men and women are unequal, and these are diversities to be celebrated rather than inequalities to be lamented. (For more about the differences between men and women see Salvo Magazine’s articles ‘Unmaking a Difference‘ and ‘Gender Benders‘.) The real question, therefore, is not whether something is a case of sex discrimination, but whether it is a case of justifiable sex discrimination.
It follows that what we need to be asking is more specific than simply, “Is discrimination wrong?” We need to be asking specifically whether or not sex discrimination with respect to male primogeniture is rationally justified or not. We cannot know that male primogeniture is wrong merely from the fact that it discriminates against women.
We would argue further that the burden rests on those who wish to overturn centuries of precedent to first establish that male primogeniture is a case of unjustifiable discrimination. However, instead of making this case, opponents of male primogeniture tend to simply assume that the discrimination in the succession laws is equivalent to illegal and unjust discrimination. For example, Keith Vaz MP told Parliament: “Sex discrimination has been illegal in the U.K. since 1975 and those who break the law are rightly punished. This rule attempts to bring gender equality into our succession rules.” This is manifestly untrue: only certain types of sex discrimination, namely those deemed to be wrong, have been illegal. In order to show that the discrimination inherent in the succession laws must join the category of illegal discrimination, it is necessary to first establish that such discrimination is wrong. But that is something that none of the critics of male primogeniture have yet been able to do.
Few realize that if the false principles on which the anti-discrimination argument is based were extended to their logical conclusion, it would throw into question the very legitimacy of the monarchy itself. If, under the mantra of ‘equal rights’, we altered the succession rules so as not to discriminate against firstborn females, then it would be hard to know how to answer those who said that such a system is unjust for discriminating against second-born children, or even children from another family. An hereditary monarchy occupied by only one person is inherently antithetical to the idea of ‘equal rights.’ This is one of the reasons that Telegraph commentator Charles Moore was correct to point out that “If you cast doubt on the succession, you cast doubt on the whole thing.”
The power of this logic has not been lost on the virulent anti-monarchy lobby that is at work to destroy the crown. In researching for this paper I wrote to the anti-monarchy group Republic and asked if they saw the debate about succession as an opportunity to make the case for abandoning the monarchy completely. A representative from the group wrote back and said, revealingly, that
“once we concede the principle that the throne should be open to women, the debate will raise a lot more questions: why not a second born daughter? Why not someone else’s daughter? So, we are looking forward to this debate to enable us to highlight the unfairness of the hereditary principle in and of itself.”
These words were echoed by Graham Smith, campaign manager for Republic, when asked about the proposed changes in October 2011. “In practice,” he said, “it simply means that the eldest child of one family is preferred over all others. Inequality is therefore further entrenched in the system.”
Often Faulty Argument #3 is combined with Faulty Argument #1, when it is urged that Britain’s present system is a sexist hangover from its archaic past in which unjust discrimination against women was allegedly institutionalized. For example, Julia Gillard, prime minister of Australia, combined Faulty Argument #1 with Faulty Argument #3 when she noted, “To our modern minds these seem like simple and very rational changes, that there would no longer be a discrimination against women in the way in which the line of succession works…” The problem with combining Faulty Argument #1 and 3 together is the same problem that exists if you put one leaky bucket inside another leaky bucket: you still have a bucket that doesn’t hold any water.
Faulty Argument #4: Britain has had very good Queens in the past and will therefore benefit from a change in the succession laws.
While it is true that Britain has had some very good Queens in the past, this does not in itself prove that the succession laws should be changed to allow for more female monarchs. If it did, then we might equally argue that the succession laws should be changed to allow for even more kings since Britain has had some excellent male monarchs in the past. But that is absurd. It is also worth noting that one of the worst times in British history occurred under the reign of a Queen, namely Mary Tudor, or Bloody Mary (1496–1533).
- Edmund Burke Would Not Be Pleased
- Christian Voice Takes Stand For Male Primogeniture
- Hark what discord follows when you meddle with the monarchy
- The trouble with being ‘modern’ is that you soon go out of fashion
Find out how to join Christian Voice and stand up for the King of kings (clicking on the link below does not commit you to join)
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