LONDON Britain must change its laws to allow a future king or queen to marry a Catholic despite "old prejudices and old fears" that this might imperil ties between the monarchy and the Church of England, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said on Tuesday.
Presenting a bill to parliament that would end 300-year-old laws that ban future monarchs from marrying Catholics, he said the rules were from a "bygone era".
The amendments would also end the primacy of male heirs to the British throne, meaning that the claim to the throne of the first child of Prince William and his pregnant wife Kate Middleton, if a girl, would not be usurped by younger brothers.
"Today we do not support laws which discriminate on either religious or gender grounds. They have no place in modern Britain, and certainly not in our monarchy," said Clegg, during the second reading of the bill to amend succession.
Despite having widespread support must pass through several other stages of scrutiny before becoming law.
Plans to allow heirs to the throne to marry Catholics have raised concerns about the religion in which children from the union will be raised, given British monarchs are also Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
Since the time of King Henry VIII and England's break with the Roman Catholic church in the 16th century, the ruling English - now British - monarch has been the head of the now 80 million-strong Anglican communion.
"There is huge potential tension ... It is important to ensure that the monarch is not put in an invidious place in the context of which religion heirs to the throne or those in line to the throne are marrying," Ian Lang, who sits in parliament's upper chamber, said earlier this month.
Media reports have also indicated that Prince Charles, Prince William's father, has expressed concerns about the consequences on the English church of changing succession rules.
Clegg batted away concerns over what he dubbed the "Catholic Question", insisting that the Catholic church does not oblige children in mixed marriages to be raised as Catholics.
"I know there are some concerns among some honourable members about potential unintended consequences of this reform: specifically, if a monarch is married to a Catholic and their heir has to be brought up in the Catholic faith," he said.
"But if we follow that logic, we should be introducing bans on marriage to members of every other faith - and indeed people with no faith. Right now the monarch can marry a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu, an atheist - yet no one is alleging today that we're teetering on the edge of a constitutional crisis," he said.
(Reporting by Mohammed Abbas; Editing by Louise Ireland)