British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has announced he’d like to amend the country’s Act of Settlement , which bars royals who marry Roman Catholics from taking the throne:

Britain may allow the monarch to marry a Catholic and give female heirs an equal claim to the throne, the government said on Friday, in what would be a reversal of discriminatory laws going back 300 years.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Queen have held talks on changing the 1701 law on succession to the throne that was drawn up at a time of widespread hostility to Roman Catholics.

The Act of Settlement bars royals from becoming king or queen if they “profess the popish religion or shall marry a papist.”

Brown said the reform is overdue, but will be complicated by the need for agreement among all 53 Commonwealth countries.

“In the 21st century, people do expect discrimination to be removed,” he told the BBC. “There are clearly issues that have got to be dealt with not just in Britain but . . . across the whole of the Commonwealth.”

Might the suggested reforms signal the beginning of the end of British anti-Catholicism? Don’t count on it, says Damian Thompson. Instead, the move is an empty gesture aimed at distracting Catholics from much larger issues:

Gordon Brown’s plan to amend the Act of Settlement is an attempt to pacify Catholic public opinion, which is increasingly horrified by the actions of the most anti-Catholic cabinet in living memory. That is not its only purpose: the Prime Minister is desperate to leave his mark on history in some shape or form, and constitutional change fits the bill. But, as a Scot who grew with a wily and well-organized Catholic political machine, he knows that Papists can cause trouble when they get their act together.

Forgive me if I can’t get excited about the forthcoming liberation of my constitutional rights. I don’t often agree with Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton, but when he said that allowing members of the Royal Family [to marry Roman Catholics] was “not of major concern,” he was spot on.

Here are a few subjects that are of major concern to Catholics: compulsory sex education for five-year-olds, the creation of hybrid embryos, the placing of children with gay couples, the attack on the selection procedures of Catholic schools. These are areas in which Mr Brown wishes Catholics would just shut up .