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Time for all of Europe’s monarchies to follow the Dutch lead and say a public ‘I do’ to same sex marriage

King Willem-Alexander and his family on King's Day 2021
Photo: RVD

Sometimes, the world surprises you. The Dutch Prime Minister has said that the heir, Princess Catharina-Amalia, could still take the throne even if she married another woman and suddenly it’s big news. Surely, this is just a statement of fact? But the truth is that Mark Rutte has opened up a vital debate which has more relevance now than at any time in the recent past. For we need to make it crystal clear that a new generation of royals is free to love and marry who they choose. And one way of doing that would be to hear all our continent’s kings and queens back same sex marriage for their families.

You would think, by now, that same sex marriage could no longer excite frantic discussion. Mark Rutte’s statement comes twenty years after the Netherlands legislated for same sex marriage. And the countries that still have monarchies in Europe have, for the most part, given the same marriage rights to same sex couples as to couples of opposite sexes. However, no one has every really broached what would happen should a monarch or heir choose to marry a same sex partner. We talk of modernising monarchies and yet there is a general, unspoken expectation that a prince will find a wife and a princess will take a husband. After all, there is the future of the dynasty to think about.

Mark Rutte didn’t shy away from that part of the debate, examining how children of a same sex marriage would be treated. Addressing the issue, he concluded ”it’s just very dependent on the facts and circumstances of the specific case, as you can see by looking back at how family law can change over time.”

But his basic message was clear. After a book questioned whether Amalia would be allowed to rule if she did marry a woman, Rutte wrote a letter to parliament which stated ”The government believes that the heir can also marry a person of the same sex.”

It shouldn’t and couldn’t be any other way. But the fact that Mark Rutte’s comments have made headlines around the world shows just how little thought has been given to the future partnerships of our future monarchs. Times have changed but expectations, it seems, might not have kept pace. The solution, to me, is obvious. It’s time, now, for all modern royal families to say a public ‘I do’ to same sex marriage.

There are more nuanced parts of the debate. In the UK, for example, while civil law permits same sex marriage, the Church of England doesn’t. The Monarch is also the Church’s Supreme Head and no doubt a lot of discussion would be generated if a future ruler chooses to wed outside its auspices. The Catholic Church is opposed to same sex marriage so monarchies in countries with strong Catholic traditions, including Belgium and Spain, would also likely encounter intense debate if a royal chose a same sex partner. And then we come to the issue at the heart of any royal dynasty, the succession.

Let’s not be Victorian here. We’re talking about making babies. All royal families have to do that or their throne either goes to a strange cousin no-one likes or it disappears forever. However, the concept that the conception of an heir has to happen in the traditional manner (no drawings here, you’re all grown ups, you know exactly what I mean) isn’t one set in stone. Would we protest if a monarch or a direct heir right now used fertility treatment to start their family? No and quite right, too. So if, in the future, a same sex couple take the same route, what’s the problem?

Just as we left the notion of women being good for breeding but rubbish at ruling in the dim and distant past where it belongs, so we need to lose the idea that we need to know every last scrap of genetic information involved in creating a new generation of a ruling dynasty. Ultimately, what makes someone royal is relation to a royal relation. A whole new wave of young princesses and princes are rising to the throne with, no spoilers here, at least one parent not born royal. What gives them membership of their regal families is relation to someone already in it. You don’t need both parents to be part of the power set up (that never ends well, anyway, check the Hapsburgs). So if a same sex couple use a donor or a surrogate, does it really matter? The royal parent provides the link to a regal past and the rest, as they say, is history.

Besides, most royal families now are filled to the brim with potential heirs. If any of the next generation of rulers decided not to marry or not to have children, regardless of the gender of their partner, there are plenty of people behind them in all their lines of succession. The thrones of Europe all have plenty of surety around them. Human hearts aren’t so solid. And, ultimately, what we are talking about is humans.

Kings and queens, princes and princess may have wealthy lives and lots more diamonds than us but at the end of the day, they are still people. A loving family is a prize beyond compare. Are we really going to deny someone the chance to enjoy that so we keep to the rules made by royals from long ago?

I heartily welcome the wise words of Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, and the confidence of Princess Catharina-Amalia and her parents to allow her future, whatever that is, to be part of such a vital debate. Whoever Amalia ends up marrying we should all just wish her happiness and the same goes right across the continent. We live in a Europe where same sex marriage now sits where it belongs, on statute books. How does it make any sense that the only people who could be denied this right are the very ones in whose names the laws are made?

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton, a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. June has been a reporter, producer and editor, picking up several awards over the years. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.