In a country still deeply riven by division over differences — in race, class, political affiliation and more — it is Mpho Tutu’s “sameness” to her new wife that has created a stir. Tutu (now Tutu-Van Furth) is the daughter of South Africa’s first black archbishop and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and is really only the “same” as her wife in one way — they are both women. But in almost every other imaginable way, they are different. Tutu is black, South African, a devout priest and, as she puts it, “vertically challenged.” Marceline Tutu-Van Furth is lanky, Dutch, atheist and a professor of pediatric diseases in Amsterdam.
South Africa’s Anglican church, where Tutu-Van Furth until recently practiced as a priest, isn’t ready to accept those with alternative sexualities as members of its clergy. Tutu-Van Furth was ordained at the Historic Christ Church in Alexandria, Va., and since the Episcopal Church, the U.S.-based branch of the Anglican Communion, accepts priests who have entered into same-sex marriages, she can still practice in the United States.
“Because the South African Anglican church does not recognize our marriage, I can no longer exercise my priestly ministry in South Africa,” Tutu-van Furth told local media. “The bishop [of Cape Town] was instructed to revoke my license. I decided that I would give it to him rather than have him take it, a slightly more dignified option with the same effect.”
The Tutu-Van Furths were married on Dec. 30, 2015, but Mpho Tutu-Van Furth didn’t reveal that she was being forced out of the South African clergy until recently.
The South African Anglican church will decide in the coming year whether to change its stance. South Africa legalized same-sex marriage in 2006, making it the first country to do so in Africa. Thabo Makgoba, the current archbishop of Cape Town — the role which Tutu-Van Furth’s father held — has spoken about his church’s refusal to accept priests from the LGBT community as a problem of discrimination to overcome, similar to anointing blacks or women in the past.
Desmond Tutu, renowned for his vocal opposition to apartheid, has also championed the cause of LGBT equality.
“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 said in 2013. “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.”
His newlywed daughter and her wife are currently honeymooning in Bali.