US & World

The Queen takes a stand for women, and maybe gay rights, too

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II will sign a new charter for the 54-member Commonwealth on Monday.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II will sign a new charter for the 54-member Commonwealth on Monday.
Ian Gavan/AFP/Getty Images

With a stroke of her pen, Queen Elizabeth II is marching for equal rights.

Her Majesty will sign a new charter for the Commonwealth on Monday. The charter declares the core values for the 54 member states, most of which were once under British rule. This new version is getting attention for statements on gender equality and what it may imply for gay rights.

The section on gender states: "We recognise that gender equality and women's empowerment are essential components of human development and basic human rights."

The Daily Mail says the queen's endorsement of the charter "is seen as a clear indication that she supports new laws designed to give equal Royal accession rights to boys and girls." The legislation could affect the child of the duke and duchess of Cambridge; should they have a girl, she may well be queen someday.

While the concept of gender equality is clearly endorsed, implications for gay rights are not so straightforward. In reference to human rights, the charter says: "We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds."

The Mail reports the "other grounds" phrase is "intended to refer to sexuality."

But human rights activist Peter Tatchell tells The Australian Associated Press: "It is an important document but it does not include any explicit commitment to gay rights." Tatchell says 41 of the 54 Commonwealth member countries criminalize homosexuality.

Still, Ben Summerskill of the Stonewall rights group says the queen has taken a "'step forward' on gay rights," according to the Mail.

A "diplomatic source" told the paper, "The impact of this statement on gay and women's rights should not be underestimated."

On Monday, the queen will give a speech in a live broadcast, and there will be a number of other events marking Commonwealth Day.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit