How can Charles become king? You say his marital status does not matter, nor whom he marries (unless she is a Roman Catholic). But then, why did Edward have to abdicate when he wed Wallis Simpson?
Yes it does seem rather unfair that Charles was allowed to marry Camilla and Edward had to abdicate to marry Wallis Simpson. But putting aside all of the legal, moral and religious issues, the one main reason is that times are different. It would be interesting to see how Edward and Wallis' relationship would be handled nowadays. There seems to be one common denominator between the two couples: Divorce. Unlike now, it wasn't as common back in 1936 and there was a stigma attached to it. Along with being divorced Wallis also had several strikes against her: She was married at the time, she was an American, she had a reputation, and she was a commoner. Her nationality and social standing would not be an issue now, but in 1936 they were considered strikes against her.
In fact, legally Edward could have married Wallis Simpson but this would have caused a constitutional crisis. Unlike Charles, the King faced formidable opposition, not just from his government but from the Dominions; all of whom felt that Wallis was not consort material. There was also the Church of England which did not recognize divorce nor remarriage of a person whose previous spouse was still alive. The Church also did not recognize her first divorce. Marrying her would have been in conflict with Edward's role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England. A morganatic marriage was proposed (a marriage is one in which the wife of the Sovereign and any children who may be born of the marriage, are denied any claim upon the Sovereign's status, rights or privileges. This would have required special legislation, which the government was not prepared to do. The King then had three options - reject the advice of his ministers (a course which he never contemplated), renounce Wallis (which he refused to do) or abdicate. Edward felt that he could not continue in his role as King without Wallis, so he chose to abdicate.
Like Edward, Charles viewed his relationship as non-negotiable. However, as mentioned, times had changed. Prince Charles’ previous wife had died so there was no bar to his marrying again. The Church recognized Camilla’s divorce on the grounds of adultery. The Church had also changed its position on divorce. Allowing for couples to be remarried in a civil ceremony. The couple also had the support of the royal family, the government, the Church of England. The Commonwealth realms did not pose any opposition to the union. There was also the factor that the couple obviously would not produce any children. It would have been interesting to see what the reaction would have been had there been no legitimate heir (Prince William). Despite times having changed, the attitude could have been different with the succession at stake.
© Marilyn Braun 2009