Saturday, 4 August 2007

Ban on Catholic marriage 'lesser of two evils'

If Peter Phillips, the Queen's grandson, marries his Roman Catholic girlfriend, Autumn Kelly, he will have to give up his place in the line of succession to the throne; either that, or Miss Kelly will have to renounce her membership of the Catholic Church. That is not a very happy situation. The prohibition on the heir to the throne marrying a Catholic, when he or she is perfectly free to marry a member of the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo or a militant jihadist, is hard to defend. None the less, this newspaper does defend it - reluctantly - as the lesser of two evils.

The greater evil is this: drastic constitutional change at a time when our historic national institutions, such as the monarchy and the Church of England, need to be left alone. The repeal of the Act of Settlement of 1701 that forbids monarchs and their heirs from becoming or marrying Catholics would bring us to the brink of the disestablishment of the Church of England. It would (at the very least) necessitate a long, agonising and eye-wateringly complex discussion about our constitutional settlement. Moreover, should Labour remain in power, all this would be taking place under a government whose enthusiasm for reform far outstrips its ability to implement it. Every constitutional change since 1997 - the abolition of hereditary peers, devolution, the emasculation of the office of Lord Chancellor - has been botched to some degree. The idea that this Government, with its uncertain feel for our heritage, could unpick the threads that bind the monarch to the Church and the Church to the English people and weave them into something better is simply ridiculous. Read more

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