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UK: Prince's wedding not illegal


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Charles and Camilla: Marriage a sensitive issue.
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The British government has responded to criticism from legal experts by issuing a statement saying the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles in a civil ceremony will be lawful.

Questions had been raised because of an 1836 law that says members of the royal family cannot marry in a civil ceremony.

In a written parliamentary answer on Wednesday, the Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer said: "The government is satisfied that it is lawful for the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Parker Bowles, like anyone else, to marry by a civil ceremony in accordance with Part III of the Marriage Act 1949."

Lord Falconer continued: "Civil marriages were introduced in England by the Marriage Act 1836. Section 45 said that the act 'shall not extend to the marriage of any of the royal family.'

"But the provisions on civil marriage in the 1836 Act were repealed by the Marriage Act 1949. All remaining parts of the 1836 Act, including section 45, were repealed by the Registration Service Act 1953. No part of the 1836 Act, therefore, remains on the statute book."

Meanwhile Wednesday, Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth II's decision not to attend the wedding on April 8 at Windsor's Guildhall of her eldest son and his long-time companion was not a snub.

The palace's denial came the day after it announced that the monarch would not attend the civil ceremony because her presence would prevent the low-key type of event the couple wanted.

The queen will attend a religious service to be held afterward and will host a reception for the couple at the castle later in the day, a palace spokesman said.

Britain's newspapers Wednesday were united in declaring that the monarch's absence from the ceremony was a massive put-down by a queen convinced her presence would demean the monarchy.

"Queen snubs the wedding," said a front-page headline in the Daily Mail. "More humiliation for the prince over his town hall marriage."

"This should be the happiest day of Charles and Camilla's lives," the Daily Mirror said in an editorial. "Instead it is turning into a nightmare."

Even the London Times -- widely regarded as Britain's "paper of record" -- said the refusal showed "divisions at the heart of the royal household."

"She is understood to have become irritated that her son and Mrs. Parker Bowles appear to have rushed their wedding plans, resulting in a series of errors that have brought embarrassment to the royal family" The Times said on its front page.

The queen's move provided the latest twist to an increasingly chaotic build-up to the wedding between heir-to-the-throne Charles, 56, and divorcee Parker Bowles, 57.

Since the wedding announcement on February 10, the palace has seen the venue switched and doubts raised over the legality of royals marrying in a civil ceremony.

"It has gone from a smooth operation to a fuss and now a farce," constitutional expert David Starkey told Reuters.

Earlier, Buckingham Palace rejected suggestions of a row, stressing the queen would attend the church blessing of the couple by the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams at Windsor Castle, which will be held after the ceremony at Windsor's Guildhall.

"The wedding will be blessed in front of family and friends. There will be a lovely reception afterwards. The civil ceremony was always meant to be low-key," a spokesman for Clarence House, as Charles' office is known, said Wednesday.

Asked whether Charles viewed the queen's absence as a snub, the spokesman added: "No. They've discussed it and the prince is happy with the arrangements."

When their engagement was announced, the queen and her husband, Prince Philip, issued a statement saying they were "very happy" Charles and Parker Bowles planned to marry and offered their "warmest good wishes for their future together."

Divorcee

The couple will marry in a civil ceremony, rather than an Anglican religious ceremony, because the bride-to-be is a divorcee with a living ex-husband.

Prince Charles also was divorced from his first wife, Princess Diana, although her death in 1997 removed any religious impediment to his remarriage.

Williams, who as Archbishop of Canterbury is the top cleric in the Church of England, said the arrangements for the wedding were "consistent" with the church's guidelines concerning remarriage which the prince "fully accepts as a committed Anglican."

The British monarch is also supreme governor of the Church of England, a title Prince Charles will inherit from his mother if he ascends to the throne as king.

Should Prince Charles become king, Parker Bowles will take the title "princess consort" rather than queen.

Royal-watchers were already saying that the wedding plans were turning into what they termed "a comedy of errors."

"Considering they have had 33 years to plan this great event, they have made a ham-fist of it," Daily Mail royal correspondent Richard Kay told Reuters.

"This certainly looks like a comedy of errors. They are looking flat-footed and caught out by events." (Royal comedy of errors?)

British media speculated Tuesday that the couple could even end up having to get married in Scotland as Charles' sister, Princess Anne, did when she married for the second time in 1992.


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