Rule Change Gives Women Equal Rights to British Throne
Sixteen nations of the Commonwealth, mostly previous British colonies who still recognize the British monarch as their head of state, have thrown off hundreds of years of tradition in favor of modern laws which give royal girl children the same right to the throne as her male siblings.
They join seven other European monarchies which have abolished the practice of male preference in royal ascendancy.
Under the old system, called primogeniture, the first born (traditionally male) child inherited everything including the family wealth, lands and title.
Current Queen Elizabeth had no such competition as she was the oldest of two daughters of King George VI and the Queen Elizabeth.
With William's recent marriage to Kate Middleton, now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the question returned to the forefront as a new generation of royals-in-waiting becomes a possibility. This rule change means a first born girl would be eligible to become Queen without standing in line behind a younger brother.
More complicated was changing the law permitting the monarch to marry a Catholic. This is another recognition that attitudes have changed and the time has come to re-evaluate some long standing traditions.
The Church of England split from the Vatican more than three hundred years ago under King Henry VIII. Discrimination against Catholics included laws which prohibited them from owning land, voting, joining the army or holding a "learned profession".
These laws have slowly been dismantled over the years and the royal prohibition from marrying a Catholic seemed starkly out of date.
One thing that hasn't changed is that the monarch must be Protestant as they also are considered the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.