Mpho Tutu: Choosing between the church and being gay
- 9 June 2016
- From the section Africa
The daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mpho, says part of her was "stripped away" when she had to relinquish the Anglican priesthood over her same-sex marriage, writes Justine Lang.
Reverend Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth followed her father into a life in the Anglican church, but when she decided to marry the woman she loved, she had to leave.
She married her long-term Dutch girlfriend, Marceline van Furth, in a small private ceremony in the Netherlands at the end of last year, but they went public last month when they had a wedding celebration in Cape Town.
"My marriage sounds like a coming out party," explains Ms Tutu van Furth.
"Falling in love with Marceline was as much as a surprise to me as to everyone else," she tells me.
Marceline van Furth is a specialist in paediatric infectious disease and is based in Holland. She is also an atheist.
Prior to the announcement of their marriage, Ms Tutu van Furth's sexuality was never made public, and she had previously been married to a man with whom she had two children.
Marriage 'not recognised'
While same-sex marriage was legalised in South Africa in 2006, South African Anglican law on marriage states: "Holy matrimony is the lifelong and exclusive union between one man and one woman."
Same-sex marriages are not recognised and when it comes to gay clerics, the church is very clear - they must remain celibate.
Ms Tutu van Furth feared that her marriage would mean losing her licence to practice as a priest.
And indeed shortly after her wedding, her diocese decided to withdraw it. And that is when she said she would hand it back as she thought this was a more dignified option with the same effect.
"It was incredibly sad for me.
"A few years ago I celebrated the Eucharist with my father... and now to be in a position that I cannot serve at the alter with him... I was surprised by how much it hurt," she reveals.
And while her father, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, now 84, has been very supportive of her marriage, she says she is also very aware that he has to be careful to allow the conversation to unfold as opposed to picking a fight.
Despite this, his views on homophobia have always been very clear.
In July 2013, while speaking at a UN-backed campaign to promote gay rights, he 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 said, equating the campaign against homophobia to that waged in South Africa against racism.
Ms Tutu van Furth would like her marriage to help progress what she calls the "very important conversation'" that needs to be had in the church regarding same-sex marriage.
"What is so absolute that we can't pass beyond this point?" she asks.
"Not only do we have gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual people of every description sitting in our pews, to be perfectly honest we have all of those people standing in our pulpits too.
"And yet very often they sit in fear in the pews and they stand in fear in the pulpits because they are not free to fully own who they are and who they love."
She is also keen that the church look at what woman like her at the altar can do to draw the young towards the church.
As a lipstick-wearing black woman in robes, she knows that she is not your typical Anglican priest.
"I want that young girl to look at me and realize that is what priests can look like," she explains.
The Tutu van Furths' careers and children force them to live 9,600km (5,965miles) apart.
Mpho Tutu van Furth is in Cape Town running her parents' foundation and her partner is in Amsterdam practising medicine.
Living apart, she says, is not ideal.
"We are newly-weds like every other set of newly-weds and it sucks. Living apart is not a good and joyful thing.
"It's a huge challenge to us but we talk umpteen times a day. God bless the internet, we love it," she says.
They have four children between them, ranging from 10 years old to 19 years old from their first marriages.
Ms Tutu van Furth realised that when she fell in love, she would have to make a very difficult choice between being a priest or being with the person she loved.
It was, she says, one of the hardest choices of her life.
"I shouldn't have to choose but in the end you always choose love. Everything else will fall into place somehow. When in doubt do the most loving thing."
The Anglican Church in South Africa has indicated that it is looking at adopting pastoral guidelines for members who enter same-sex unions.
But it is not clear whether there will be any change when it comes to same-sex marriages of church clerics.