In a Hollywood love story, life is simple and straightforward. Boy meets girl. Boy marries girl. Boy and girl raise a family. However, real life doesn't always imitate art. Sometimes boy meets girl, girl becomes pregnant, and boy meets shotgun-toting future father-in-law. This scenario is the basis for one of the unhappiest of occasions known as a shotgun wedding.
A shotgun wedding is the matrimonial equivalent of gunboat diplomacy. The father of the baby must do the honorable thing and attend a hastily arranged marriage ceremony. Any questions or concerns may be addressed by Smith and Wesson.
The idea of a forced wedding in order to preserve the honor of a pregnant bride and her family is not a new one, although the image of a shotgun-toting father appears to be uniquely American. The original shotgun wedding phenomenon may have involved actual weaponry, but many historians believe the actual number of marriages performed under such duress were not unusually high. Tales of forced weddings often served as object lessons for young men of dating age.
Even if the shotgun element has largely fallen out of the wedding business, the idea of restoring honor to both families has not. Although society in general has become more accepting of couples who conceive out of wedlock, there are still families who believe strongly in marriage before pregnancy. The social stigma attached to an unwed mother, and by extension her family, is often difficult to ignore. A public wedding involving a pregnant bride might not be the family's first choice, but at least it helps to restore some honor to the family and helps the young couple gain some much-needed respect from the community.
The term shotgun wedding can also be used metaphorically to describe a hastily arranged agreement or a decision made under extreme duress. A merger with a rival company may be seen as a forced marriage prompted by the threat of overseas competition, for example.