Mpho Tutu forced to quit priesthood in South Africa over same-sex marriage

(Photo: Dalai Lama's Facebook page)From left Rev. Canon Mpho Tutu, Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama meeting in India early in 2015.

Ordained Anglican church minister Rev. Canon Mpho Tutu has revealed that her licence carry out her ministerial duties in South Africa is being revoked because she married a woman – so, she's decided to step down instead.

Newlyweds Mpho and Marceline Tutu-Van Furth are on honeymoon on the Indian Ocean, Indonesian island of Bali after their wedding at a wine estate in South Africa, City Press newspaper reports.

The wedding at Franschoek near Cape Town was attended by Mpho's parents, Leah and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

"Bali is quite magical," said Mpho in an email to City Press, noting that she had decided to "give up" her ministerial duties – her authority to preside at Holy Communion, and to officiate at weddings, baptisms and funerals in South Africa.

"Because the South African Anglican Church does not recognise our marriage, I can no longer exercise my priestly ministry in South Africa," she said.

"The bishop of the Diocese of Saldanha Bay [Bishop Raphael Hess] was instructed to revoke my licence. I decided that I would give it to him rather than have him take it, a slightly more dignified option with the same effect."

Same-sex marriage was legalized in South Africa in 2006.

The South African Anglican law on marriage states, however, "Holy matrimony is the lifelong and exclusive union between one man and one woman."

Debate over same-sex marriage has riven the worldwide Anglican Communion and, in South Africa, Mpho and Marceline's high-profile union has also highlighted the issue.

In December, the couple legally tied the knot in Marceline's home country, the Netherlands.

Soon after, Cape Town's Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba indicated that pastoral guidelines for same-sex marriage would be reconsidered in September, City Press said.

Desmond Tutu had said last week that Makgoba allowed him to give his daughter and her bride a "father's blessing."

"Archbishop Thabo permitted me to give the couple a father's blessing, which we hoped would not be misconstrued as pre-empting decisions of the Provincial Synod, the church's highest legislative structure," he said.

Mpho Tutu pointed out that despite obvious differences between her and her spouse, ironically, it now is her and Marceline's sameness that was causing distress.

"My wife and I meet across almost every dimension of difference. Some of our differences are obvious; she is tall and white, I am black and vertically challenged. Some of our differences are not apparent at a glance; she is Dutch and an atheist, I am South African and a priest in the Episcopal/Anglican Church.

"Ironically, coming from a past where difference was the instrument of division, it is our sameness that is now the cause of distress. My wife and I are both women," she said.


The couple had confronted gender stereotypes, and one that irks her most is the question, "who's the man in the relationship?"

She also criticised skewed power relationships in households and abusive men in South Africa.

"In the South African context, one could also ask: 'Who gets to have multiple sexual partners (in or out of wedlock), and who gets to be drunk and violently abusive to his partner with little fear of religious sanction and no cultural consequence?'

"We have decided that we will both be the woman in the relationship. We meet as mutually respectful equals who enjoy working together.

"Neither of us stays home. Both of us enjoy cooking. We share responsibility for cleaning and employ domestic workers. Parenting our four children on two continents is a joy and a challenge. Our marriage is for our mutual joy and support. We have decided to forgo the violence and infidelity."

Mpho Tutu explained that she was still a priest in good standing in the Episcopal Church in the United States, where same-sex marriage is recognised.

Marceline is a professor of paediatric infectious diseases at the Vrije Universiteit medical centre in Amsterdam, while Mpho is executive director of the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation in Cape Town.

Both women have been married before and have children.

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