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Rule change gives girls equal shot at British throne

October 28, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
After hundreds of years of tradition, the rules of succession to the British throne have changed.

As far as anyone can remember, the heir to the throne always went to a royal son. Now it will go to the firstborn child, even if that child is a girl.

There was a bit of shock and awe at a local British pub Friday after word that Queen Elizabeth II wants to change a 300-year-old law.

"It's about bloody time," said Veronica Andrews of Buchanan Arms Import Shop. "It is a bit of a surprise. Usually, the monarch...is pretty rigid, so each little change is a big step for them. I'm just glad that they're coming into the 21st century."

According to ancient laws, the 16 Commonwealth nations, aka the realms over which the queen is the head of state, must vote on whether sons and daughters should have equal rights in succession to the throne. They did, and the vote was unanimous in favor of the change.

"Well I think the time has come to change the rules so that if the royal couple has a girl rather than a boy, then that little girl will be our queen," said British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Under the old law, the heir to the throne is the first born son of the monarch. Only when there are no sons, as in the case of the queen's father, does the crown pass to the eldest daughter.

Not anymore. Take for example the recently married Prince William and Kate Middleton - now known as Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. The historic change now means if their first child is a girl, she will take precedence over any younger brothers in the order of succession.

But it could be years before that happens or before we see another female monarch. The new rules would only apply to future heirs and would have no impact on the current line of succession.

The royal family already has two generations of kings in waiting. Prince William is second in line to the throne after his father, Prince Charles, who is the queen's firstborn child.

Charles' sister, Anne, is lower in the line of succession than her younger brothers Andrew and Edward by virtue of their male gender.

Charles had only sons, William and Prince Harry, so the issue of gender was never raised.

As for the queen? At a sprightly 85 years old, she is the picture of good health and doesn't look like she'll be retiring anytime soon.

The rule has kept women from succeeding to the throne in the past. Queen Victoria's first child was a daughter - also called Victoria - but it was her younger brother who became King Edward VII.

Earlier history might also have been drastically different if women had had equal rights to the throne.

Neither Henry VIII nor Charles I would have been king because both had older sisters who, under the new rules, would have been monarch.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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