Divorce or we’ll expel your son.
This is the ultimatum one religious school gave a married lesbian couple from South Africa last month.
The couple, Kally and Samantha Mabe, 26 and 27 respectively, enrolled their son, now 5, at the Secunda Highveld Christian School (now re-branded as a college but still catering to young children) in Mpumalanga in eastern South Africa, north of KwaZulu-Natal.
They say they wanted their son to attend the school because such schools are “supposed to teach love, acceptance and forgiveness.”
Based on how it presents itself, Secunda Highveld would certainly appear to think of itself as a Christian school.
The school’s website, for instance, dedicates space on its front page to the ethos that “Education apart from Biblical values is not true education. Our programme instills traditional moral values and Biblical principles in the life of each student.”
With the deeply religious nature of the school’s approach to education in mind, Kally and Samantha Mabe say they were upfront about their marriage, telling both the school’s principal and their son’s class teacher.
Furthermore, they claim that they made note of the fact they are a same-sex couple on their son’s admission forms.
“We never hid the fact that he has two mothers, and I filled in my details under the section in the form that asks for the mother’s details and Sam filled in the area that said ‘Father/Guardian,’ but also filled in her title as ‘Mrs’,” Kally is quoted as saying.
In addition, Kally Mabe alleges that not only did they tell the school these facts, the school’s principal even “said they were Christian and not in a position to judge us.”
However, when their son told his Grade R teacher that he had “two mothers” in April and that unnamed teacher took the matter to the school’s principal, the situation changed.
The Mabes claim Kally was summoned to a meeting with the principal, where she and her wife were accused of falsifying information on their application letter to conceal the fact that they are a married same-sex couple.
“The principal,” Kally Mabe claims, “said she could not remember us telling her we were married.”
Kally also alleges, “and that because they [said] they couldn’t differentiate between black names, they were under the impression I was married to a man.”
Kally Mabe was then informed that their being a lesbian couple would be “a problem” and that the principal would have to consult with the school’s affiliated pastor and involve the school board.
Things, the Mabes claim, only soured further from there.
At a second meeting, this time with the school’s affiliated but so far unnamed pastor, the Mabes claim the pastor and principal continued to deny the school was ever informed about the couple’s same-sex marriage and that had the school known they would not have allowed the couple’s son to be admitted.
The priest, they claim, said that the school is a Christian private school for the “education of Christian values for children of normal husbands and wives.”
The couple’s son’s presence in the school, they say the pastor claimed, would amount to “trying to rewrite the school rules” and lead to the school compromising its values.
The pastor then delivered an ultimatum that they either “walk away” from their “lifestyle” — essentially, that they divorce — so that their son could stay at the school, or that they remove him at once or, if not, the school would expel him. The pastor also allegedly cited concerns that other children would “make fun of” the couple’s child and “isolate him.”
The Mabes, having paid tuition and claiming to have fully disclosed their relationship, declined to cooperate. After that, they say, the pastor threatened them with legal action.
At the time of writing, the school has so far refused to comment, reportedly telling The Star “We are not going to speak to the press,” and that it would issue a press release to the media should the school later find cause to make a statement.
South Africa Law Takes a Tough Stance on Discrimination
Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is illegal in South Africa as part of the South African Constitution and national laws which establish enumerated classes.
While some narrow deference is given to private religious institutions, the nondiscrimination laws preclude “unfair” discrimination across business, public accommodations, employment and services. Therefore, religious exemptions are not as wide ranging as religious exemptions in the United States, for instance.
So is there a legal case to answer here?
The school is an independent and private religious establishment, however, it receives public funding from the Mpumalanga Department of Education.
As such, the department has said it will look into the matter, with department spokesman Jasper Zwane quoted as saying, “We view such matters in a very serious light, and even though the school is independent, we will still find out what happened and make sure that whoever worked outside the legal framework is brought to book.”
In addition, reports note that the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) recently found against the Creare Training Centre, which bills itself as a theocentric Arts, Skills and Ministry training centre based in Bloemfontein, after a complaint was made by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development that the school had indicated in its prospectus materials that it would discriminate against pupils based on their sexual orientation.
The Creare Training Centre’s prospectus detailed what it dubbed “Relationship Etiquette,” in which it made known its opposition to same-sex relationships. The prospectus went further to also call for the “discipline” of gay and lesbian children and reportedly mandated barring them from attending classes.
The school defended itself in this case saying that kids were enrolled in the school by choice and as such should be expected to follow the school’s chosen policies.
The SAHRC, after having assessed the complaint, found the school had transgressed the law and concluded the prospectus language was “a violation of rights that has the potential of resulting in psychological and physical harm to members of LGTBI community.”
This would seem to speak directly to Mabe’s case.
Moreover, there would appear to be further legal precedent for a sexual orientation claim.
The Pretoria High Court ruled in 2008 against a Christian-identifying school, Moreleta Park NG Kerk, and ordered it to apologize and pay compensation (R87, 000) to a music teacher, Johan Strydom, whom the school had fired for being in a same-sex relationship.
Samantha and Kally Mabe are now said to be consulting their lawyers regarding potential legal action.
Image credit: Thinkstock.