Today, the Queen is expected to back an historic pledge to promote gay rights and 'gender equality' in one of the most controversial acts of her reign. In a live television broadcast, she will sign a new charter designed to stamp out discrimination against homosexual people and promote the 'empowerment' of women – a key part of a new drive to boost human rights and living standards across the Commonwealth.
In her first public appearance since she had hospital treatment for a stomach bug, the Queen will sign the new Commonwealth Charter and make a speech explaining her passionate commitment to it. Insiders say her decision to highlight the event is a 'watershed' moment – the first time she has clearly signalled her support for gay rights in her 61-year reign.
The charter, dubbed a '21st Century Commonwealth Magna Carta' declares: "We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds."
The 'other grounds' is intended to refer to sexuality – but specific reference to 'gays and lesbians' was omitted in deference to Commonwealth countries with draconian anti-gay laws. Sources close to the Royal Household said she is aware of the implications of the charter's implicit support of gay rights and commitment to gender equality. In her speech, the Queen is expected to stress that the rights must 'include everyone' - and this is seen as an implicit nod to the agenda of inclusivity, usually championed by the Left.
A diplomatic source added: "The impact of this statement on gay and women's rights should not be underestimated. Nothing this progressive has ever been approved by the United Nations.
Insiders say her backing for full 'gender equality' and 'women's empowerment' – using language until recently considered the preserve of Left-wing activists – is equally significant. A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: "In this charter, the Queen is endorsing a decision taken by the Commonwealth." But he added: "The Queen does not take a personal view on these issues. The Queen's position is apolitical, as it is on all matters of this sort."
She will sign the document at London's Marlborough House, the Pall Mall HQ of the Commonwealth Secretariat tomorrow, Commonwealth Day.
Although the charter is not connected with the accession issue, it is seen as a clear indication that she supports new laws designed to give equal Royal accession rights to boys and girls. With the Duchess of Cambridge about five months' pregnant, the change in the law could have a crucial effect. At present, if, as is rumoured, the Duchess and Prince William have a daughter, but go on to have a son, the son would become King when William dies. However, under the law change, due to be approved in the next few months, the girl would become Monarch. The Queen has not expressed a view on the law change. However, well-placed sources confirmed that her approval of more women’s rights in the charter does reflect her support for equal rights of accession. This could bring her into conflict with Prince Charles, who has reportedly voiced doubts.
The Queen has discussed the charter in detail with her advisers and 'understands it in full', according to the royal aides. And the Queen has had talks with Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma, who has led the initiative.
The charter's Gender Rights vow says: "We recognise that gender equality and women's empowerment are essential components of human development and basic human rights. The advancement of women's rights and the education of girls are critical preconditions for effective and sustainable development."
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay and lesbian rights group Stonewall, said the Queen – who he called 'a feminist icon' – had taken 'a historic step forward' on gay rights.
He said: "This is the first time that the Queen has publicly acknowledged the importance of the six per cent of her subjects who are gay. Some of the worst persecution of gay people in the world takes place in Commonwealth countries as a result of the British Empire."
However, Monmouth Tory MP David Davies said: "I fail to see why the Queen needs to make a special statement on this country's opposition to discrimination against gays and women. It is a statement of the blindingly obvious. My worry is the politically correct brigade will use it to silence legitimate debate about issues like gay marriage. One can't help wondering what Prince Philip's view would be."
Homosexual acts are still illegal in 41 of the Commonwealth's 54 nations. Penalties include the death sentence in parts of Nigeria and Pakistan; 25 years jail in Trinidad and Tobago; 20 years plus flogging in Malaysia; and life imprisonment in Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Bangladesh and Guyana.
Same-sex relationships are recognised in only five Commonwealth countries: UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.
Before the Queen makes her later today, she will celebrate the new charter at a service at Westminster Abbey, where she will be joined by celebrities.