The issue of same-sex relationships leave alone marriages, is discussed in most African nations in hushed voices behind closed doors. Family members of such partners become items of discussions at dinner tables and coffee dates, with people trying to deduce the reason why such children turned out ‘wrong’.
In South Africa however, it is not a surprise for same-sex partners to date in open as well as tie the knot, since same-sex marriage was legalized in the country in 2006. Yet, the consequence of going against the grain is dire.
Reverend Canon Mpho Tutu-van Furth has been forced to leave her priestly duties in South Africa’s Anglican church after she married a female partner, she told AFP news agency.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu's daughter can no longer preside at holy communion, baptisms, weddings or funerals after her license was revoked because the church does not recognize gay marriages.
“The canon [law] of the South African church states that marriage is between one man and one woman,” she said in a statement. After her marriage, the Bishop of Saldanha Bay who had given her permission to officiate as a priest in his diocese “was advised that he must revoke my license. I offered to return my license rather than require that he take it from me,” she added.
Tutu-van Furth wedded a Dutch academic, Marceline Tutu-Van Furth earlier in the month in a wedding that attracted less than a hundred people on a Boland wine farm in South Africa.
Although South Africa legalized the same-sex marriage a decade ago, the Anglican church in the country preaches on marriages as a union of a man and a woman. The church is expected to decide whether to adopt guidelines drafted by its bishops on welcoming members who have entered into same-sex civil marriages.
While the Episcopal Church, the US branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion supports same-sex marriages, not all Anglican churches in other countries do. The South African branch is deeply divided on LGBT issues.
But some local bishops are in support of same-sex marriages and gay rights. Thabo Makgoba, the Archbishop of Cape Town, is one of them. He said: “We overcame deep differences over the imposition of sanctions against apartheid, and over the ordination of women, and we can do the same on human sexuality.”
Desmond Tutu, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his part in the struggle against apartheid. He is also a campaigner for gay rights and has backed same-sex marriage. He reportedly gave his blessings to his daughter’s wedding.
At the 2013 launch of the Free and Equal campaign in Cape Town, the retired bishop said: “I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place.” He compared this campaign to the one on apartheid. “I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this. I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about apartheid. For me, it is at the same level.”
Despite renouncing her clerical duties in South Africa, Tutu-van Furth remains a priest in good standing in the US, where she was ordained.
Their love transcends religious differences
The couple which was previously married to different partners have children from their former marriages. They officially tied the knot in the Netherlands last December. They held a second ceremony at a vineyard owned by Richard Branson in Franschhoek this month.
Speaking to City Press, the couple said that their love transcends religious differences and also distance: Mpho lives in the Cape Town suburb of Milnerton, and Marceline in Amsterdam.
Mpho Tutu-van Furth works as the executive director of the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation‚ while Marceline Tutu-van Furth is a professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, where she also holds the Desmond Tutu Chair in diversity.