Monday, on live television, Queen Elizabeth will sign a new Commonwealth Charter “designed to stamp out discrimination against homosexual people and promote the ‘empowerment’ of women – a key part of a new drive to boost human rights and living standards across the Commonwealth,” the Daily Mail reports.

Insiders say her decision to highlight the event is a ‘watershed’ moment – the first time she has clearly signalled her support for gay rights in her 61-year reign.

The charter, dubbed a ‘21st Century Commonwealth Magna Carta’ declares: ‘We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds.’

The ‘other grounds’ is intended to refer to sexuality – but specific reference to ‘gays and lesbians’ was omitted in deference to Commonwealth countries with draconian anti-gay laws.

The potential reach of the Charter is vast. The Commonwealth of Nations, formerly known as the British Commonwealth, consists of 54 independent sovereign states (see map, right).  Daily Mail:

Homosexual acts are still illegal in 41 of the Commonwealth’s 54 nations. Penalties include the death sentence in parts of Nigeria and Pakistan; 25 years jail in Trinidad and Tobago; 20 years plus flogging in Malaysia; and life imprisonment in Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Bangladesh and Guyana.

Same-sex relationships are recognised in only five Commonwealth countries: UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay and lesbian rights group Stonewall, said the Queen – who he called ‘a feminist icon’ – had taken ‘an historic step forward’ on gay rights. He said: ‘This is the first time that the Queen has publicly acknowledged the importance of the six per cent of her subjects who are gay. Some of the worst persecution of gay people in the world takes place in Commonwealth countries as a result of the British Empire.’

On Feb. 5 the House of Commons overwhelmingly approved the equal marriage bill by a vote of 400 to 175.  Expectations are that the bill will receive its final vote of approval from the Commons as early as this week, after which it will be sent to the House of Lords.

Update: Read The Commonwealth’s press release here.  The Charter of the Commonwealth, which Queen Elizabeth will be signing, can be read here.