Since stepping down from their senior roles in the Royal Family in January, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have only made public appearances a handful of times. But every time they have, it’s become more evident why they chose to leave.
On Thursday, Meghan Markle joined a “virtual couch party” organised by the United States of Women and When We All Vote, a non-profit, non-partisan organisation that aims to increase voter turnout and “close the race and age voting gap by changing the culture around voting.”
She used the occasion to urge Americans to vote in the US presidential election on November 3. Election Day feels “so very close,” Meghan said, “and yet there’s so much work to be done in that amount of time because we all know what’s at stake this year.”
She didn’t endorse any candidate, or name US President Donald Trump. She did speak generally about the problem of voter suppression and the importance of women’s rights, with an emphasis on how the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution granted women the right to vote 100 years ago, but specifically left out women of colour.
“If you’re not going out there and voting, then you’re complicit,” Meghan said.
For many royal fans, taking a stance against voter suppression and encouraging people to exercise their democratic right was apparently a step too far.
David Kurten, a municipal politician in London, tweeted Friday that Meghan is “obviously no longer politically neutral” and that she and Harry “should be stripped of their Sussex titles.”
Piers Morgan, a British broadcaster who has made no secret of his contempt for Meghan, also called for the couple to be stripped of their titles for “spout[ing] off about foreign elections in such a brazenly partisan way.” New Zealand broadcaster Dan Wootton said the video showed Meghan “actively campaigning against Donald Trump.”
Bette Midler, no fan of Trump or Morgan, weighed in, as well.
Before she joined the Royal Family, Meghan did speak out against Trump. In 2016, two years before she married Harry and several months before Trump was elected president, Meghan called him “misogynistic” and “divisive.”
But it’s notable that she’s being slammed for being “partisan” now, when she didn’t actually express support for either party or candidate. It would be interesting to ask Morgan, Kurten or their ilk if speaking out for women’s rights and against voter suppression is a partisan stance.
Royals don’t usually vote
It is true that royals don’t typically vote even though they’re legally allowed to. Because Queen Elizabeth is the UK’s head of state, she “has to remain strictly neutral with respect to political matters,” the Royal Family’s website explains.
“By convention, The Queen does not vote or stand for election.”
Other members of the Royal Family have the legal ability to vote, but convention usually stops them from doing so. Earlier this month, during a conversation with news outlet The 19th, Meghan said Harry “has never been able to vote.”
Notably different treatment than Prince Andrew
As many people have pointed out, there seems to be a disconnect between the anger directed at Meghan for encouraging people to vote and the relative silence directed at Prince Andrew for his ties to sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.
Prince Andrew has been accused of rape by a woman who says she was 17 at the time, and was being trafficked by Jeffrey Epstein. Andrew denies the charges and says he doesn’t remember meeting her, although there is a photo of them together.
Andrew stayed friends with Epstein even after Epstein had been arrested for suspected sexual abuse in 2005. When asked why, Andrew told BBC reporter Emily Maitlis that it was because he was “too honourable” to sever the friendship.
As prosecutors continue to investigate Epstein’s criminal actions, Andrew has refused to co-operate, despite telling media outlets he would.
“Today, Prince Andrew yet again sought to falsely portray himself to the public as eager and willing to co-operate with an ongoing federal criminal investigation into sex trafficking and related offences committed by Jeffrey Epstein and his associates,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in June.
“The Prince has not given an interview to federal authorities, has repeatedly declined our request to schedule such an interview, and nearly four months ago informed us unequivocally — through the very same counsel who issued today’s release — that he would not come in for such an interview.”
Virginia Roberts Giuffre, Prince Andrew’s accuser, tweeted on Sunday that she’s “running out of hope.”
“Anyone else would be thrown into jail,” she said.