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Boy or girl, the royal baby will be third to the throne

Dec. 3, 2012 at 3:11 PM ET

Thanks to a recent change to a centuries-old law, the child of Prince William and Duchess Kate — regardless of gender — will remain third in line to the throne.

Story: Duchess Kate is pregnant with her first child

On Monday, palace officials announced Duchess Kate's pregnancy, saying it is in the "very early stages." The only two people ahead of the baby will be Prince William and Prince Charles, while William’s brother, Prince Harry, will be bumped down to fourth in line by the baby’s birth. If the baby is a girl, she will be third in line to be queen of England.

Under the previous law of male primogeniture, which was established in 1701, male heirs were given priority over female heirs and could move ahead of them in the line of succession. That meant a younger brother could leapfrog his older sister based on the law. Queen Elizabeth II is allowed to be queen because she does not have any brothers.

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Anticipating a potential constitutional crisis if Prince William and Kate had a baby girl, last year British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to a deal with 15 other countries in the British Commonwealth to change the rule to no longer give male heirs priority. Government officials announced that the change of the law will be backdated to Oct. 28, 2011, when it was first agreed upon by the countries that recognize Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state, in order to cover the birth of the royal couple’s child.

Also the new law deems a royal family member who marries a Roman Catholic still eligible for the throne, according to a report by the London Daily Mail.

Cameron called the 1701 Act of Settlement, which established male primogeniture, out of date and discriminatory, according to the Daily Mail.

“If the birds and bees were to deliver that blessing to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and indeed the nation, then that little girl would be covered by the provisions of these changes of the rules of succession because they operate from the time of the declaration of the Commonwealth summit last October,’’ Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced in May to the British House of Commons. “It is very important to remember that the rules are de facto in place, even though they have yet to be implemented through legislation in the way that I have described.”

The new law does not apply to current royals, so the queen’s sons, Andrew and Edward, are still ahead of their older sister, Princess Anne, in the line of succession.

Just because the new baby will already be third in line to the throne doesn’t mean it will happen quickly. Prince Charles, 64, is next in line and has waited more than 60 years to take the throne. The queen is 86 and her mother lived to be 101, so it could be another 15 years before he becomes king. He is the longest-waiting successor in British history.

Prince Charles speaks about feeling “impatient” in a video on his website, adding that he's running out of time, which the British newspapers have taken to mean he is getting frustrated with his long wait for the throne. 

More: Prince Charles 'impatient' comment seen as metaphor on life 

Kate's royal snaps revealed on official site 

Will and Kate, looking adorably in love

Video: Party tips from Pippa Middleton 

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