Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Strasbourg helps the Hapsburgs and Stuarts

Although, with characteristic European efficiency, they are 304 years too late. There is some legal wrangling in Britain about the precise status of Prince Chazza's proposed marriage to Camilla, although as usual with the British constitution, the issue is not much whether it can happen, but whether a simple Act of Parliament is required to facilitate it. One complication arises from Camilla being divorced, therefore necessitating a civil wedding but posing the question of whether a royal can do this.

The government's legal adviser says Yes, and in so doing, also has implicitly argued that an oft-cited piece of sectarianism in the British constitution -- the prohibition on royal marriage to Catholics -- has already been repealed. This prohibition from the 1701 Act of Settlement has hung around as an awkward or useful point (depending on your point of view) since then. It was not directly at issue with Camilla, but what was at issue was other old legislation that appeared to bar civil marriage to the royal family. Anyway, the government argues that the latter was intentionally repealed by Parliament, but as a failsafe argument, they add:

We also note that the Human Rights Act has since 2000 required legislation to be interpreted wherever possible in a way that is compatible with the right to marry (article 12) and with the right to enjoy that right without discrimination (article 14).

This act incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into British law. And with this reasoning, a London Times legal analysis argues that the ban on Catholics is gone as well:

"He [Charles] has a right to marry and the right to enjoy that right without discrimination on religious or any other grounds - so that gives him an inalienable right as a human being. Even princes have rights.

"Actually the advice now being given to the Palace is that a Catholic could marry into the Royal Family, indeed a person of any religion could marry into the Royal Family... What he's effectilvey saying in that last paragraph is that the Act of Settlement of 1701, which is the Act that says that the sovereign can only marry in the Church of England, is as dead as a doornail."

Thus whatever becomes of the marriage itself, the government is doubtless pleased with the chance to air this reasoning. We await the reaction from Ian Paisley.

No comments: