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My novel, Where’s Sailor Jack, has two main male characters. Bob struggles to come to terms at being sent off by his wife before half-time in their marriage match, Richard doesn’t get why he’s not brought on until the second half for his. They both take marriage seriously, yet I’m sure they’d both mock its sacramental status.

I can write the dialogue now. Bob – “It’s only because Joseph had popped his clogs and Jesus got roped in by his mother for that wedding in Cana. He’d too much sense ever to take the plunge himself. And then the miserable buggers hadn’t bought enough wine.” Richard – “They probably had. He seems to have liked a drop. He just needed one more for the road back to Nazareth.”

Sacrament or not, marriage was around well before Jesus. And divorce too, allowed by Moses. Bob divorced Jane without really wanting to. He later worried that Jesus took a harder line on divorce than Moses had, before eventually convincing himself that he hadn’t. This was perhaps as well for the rest of the tale. This family saga doesn’t assume any sacrament, though I found marriage, or the lack of it, helpful in labelling who all the characters are and how they relate.

The present day urge seems to be for marriage not to be the exclusive preserve for heterosexual couples of child-bearing age. Indeed many in this group do not see the point of it. The LGBT communities rightly point out that the church has always been prepared to marry people who had passed the age where children would arise. Increasingly, they see value in the public proclamation of their relationship with the moral and legal ties this creates. They like the designer label.

I am old enough to remember girls who intended to keep their virginity until they were wearing a band of gold. I suspect that it was mainly those who had married before the pill became widely available who succeeded in that aim. A relationship can be about both companionship and sex, or either one separately. So could marriage, and still can.

Yet there is something about marriage that creates strong ties. The statistics can’t be totally spurious. Yes, maybe the marrying kind would be more likely to stay together than those with wandering eyes even if marriage was banned. The creation of a formal unit sharing the same name and roof is a powerful unifying force.

And a church wedding is special. The Anglican prayer book thunders; “Those whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder,” words powerful enough to worry Bob, but not to convince him that they’re absolute. Catholic tradition says that the two to be married are the ministers of the sacrament before God, and not the priest.


John Uttley, 69, was born in Lancashire although he now lives just outside London. Where’s Sailor Jack is his first novel. Not fancying a memoir, or his family’s story, John instead recorded his Lancastrian sense of humour as well as documenting a tumultuous, exciting period of British history. History John just happened to live through.

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