What is a Shotgun Wedding?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 July 2018
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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.


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Discuss this Article

Post 9
You don't hear about a whole lot of shotgun weddings anymore, at least when two adults are involved. If the people are teenagers, then it's sometimes a different story.

It really depends on the outlook of the parents. They could force the two to marry and take responsibility for their actions, or they could let the daughter and grandchild live with them and help her get through college someday.

Post 8

@cloudel – I have a friend whose mother was really embarrassed that she became pregnant out of wedlock. However, she still wanted her to have a nice wedding, even if it was a forced one.

She helped her plan things out for months and even bought her a maternity wedding gown. She hired a wedding photographer, but she instructed him to shoot her in such a way that would minimize her pregnant belly.

The mother actually hoped that there would be a way to hide the situation in the photographs. She wanted the memory of a special day without the reminder of the reason for it.

Post 7

I think a shotgun wedding could be any type of forced marriage. Sometimes people in arranged engagements don't want to be married, but because it is the tradition of their culture, they have to. I would consider this a shotgun wedding.

Post 6

I don't think that a bride's big belly in a wedding dress was much of an issue back in the day. I think that the girl and boy were most likely forced to get married right after they broke the news to her parents, before she started showing.

Decades ago, no parent wanted a pregnant daughter in a wedding dress. These days, people take more time to plan their dream weddings, even if the situations surrounding them aren't ideal.

Post 5

@Fa5t3r - I wonder if anyone has ever done a study on the gender equality implications about this kind of thing. Because, really, even though it's perceived to be about forcing the man into getting married, often the woman is being forced into the marriage as well.

She's considered tarnished goods and supposedly no one else will want her, so she has to take a man who doesn't really want her either. It's pretty sad all around.

Post 4

@CarrotIsland - Well, I think that it depends on what the person means. The traditional shotgun wedding is supposed to be done while an actual shotgun is trained at your back, forcing you into it.

But I've heard people refer to any hasty or unwanted wedding as a "shotgun" wedding. Particularly if it's the man being forced into it. So, maybe he got someone pregnant, or maybe it's an easily scandalized society and he merely made the moves on the girl. He might not have an actual gun to his head, but they'll call it a shotgun wedding all the same.

Post 3

@carrotisland: Since “shotgun” weddings are usually last minute, they don’t typically meet the traditional wedding guidelines. Most people go to the courthouse, as it is quicker and easier.

Start off by getting your marriage license. Some states take longer than others so keep that in mind. While you are getting your marriage license, schedule an appointment to get married. Try to find two people to act as witnesses to your wedding. If money is tight, purchase rings that will stand in for the real thing until you have the time or money to buy better ones. Decide what you are going to wear. There is usually no need to go formal but some people choose to do so.

You’re ready to get married. Meet at the courthouse, exchange vows, and you’re married! Make sure that all parties sign the marriage license to make it official and legal.

Post 2

Are shotgun weddings usually planned the same as a regular wedding?

Post 1

Oh, perhaps similar to last year's, temporary, (political) "shotgun engagement"?

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