Australia's republican female PM backs royal succession changes

Posted at 10/24/2011 5:11 PM

PERTH, Australia - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the nation's first female leader and a staunch republican, on Monday backed moves to end 300 years of discrimination against royal daughters becoming heirs to the British throne.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron wants to end rules dating back to the 17th century which ban heirs to the throne from marrying Roman Catholics and gives sons priority as heir to the throne even if they have an older sister.

Cameron will seek support for the changes from 16 Commonwealth nations, including Australia, which share Queen Elizabeth as their monarch, when they meet at a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth this week.

"You would expect me, as the first female prime minister of our nation, to say I believe women are equal to men in all regards," Gillard told reporters in Perth ahead of the Commonwealth meetings.

"I do support a change to the act of succession, which would enable the person who succeeds to the throne to be the oldest child, irrespective of gender."

Current succession rules dating back to 1688 and 1700 were designed to lock in a Protestant monarchy and force anyone in line to the throne to relinquish their claim to the throne if they married a Catholic.

Queen Elizabeth became the British monarch at the age of 25 when her father King George VI died in 1952. Now 85, she is the second longest serving British monarch and is currently on her 16th visit to Australia, where she will open a Commonwealth leaders summit on Friday.

There is support across Australia's political spectrum for changes to royal succession rules.

Australia is a constitutional monarchy, with a governor-general who represents the Queen as head of state and acts as commander-in-chief of the military. However, about a third of Australians want to severe ties with Britain and become a republic.