A shotgun wedding is a wedding which is arranged in order to avoid embarrassment due to premarital sex which can possibly lead to an unintended pregnancy. The phrase is a primarily American colloquialism, termed as such based on a stereotypical scenario in which the father of the pregnant bride-to-be threatens the reluctant groom with a shotgun in order to ensure that he follows through with the wedding.
One purpose of such a wedding can be to get recourse from the man for the act of impregnation; another reason is trying to ensure that the child is raised by both parents. In some cases, as in early America and in the Middle East, a major objective was restoring the social honour of the mother. The practice is a loophole method of preventing the birth of illegitimate children, or if the marriage occurs early enough in the gestation period, to conceal the fact that conception had already occurred prior to marriage.
In some societies, the stigma attached to pregnancy out of wedlock can be enormous, and coercive means (in spite of the legal defense of undue influence) for gaining recourse are often seen as the prospective father-in-law's "right". Often, a couple will arrange a shotgun wedding without explicit outside encouragement, and some religious groups consider it a moral imperative to marry in that situation.
Premarital sexual relations remain taboo across all social strata throughout the Arab world. In many cases, fornication is illegal and even a criminal offence under Sharia law. Even when it is not, the social response can be extreme, especially against women who have lost their virginity prior to marriage.
In Arabic culture, shotgun weddings serve to obscure the fact that a baby was conceived prior to marriage. When that proves impossible, the social standing of the couple involved is irreparably damaged. Nevertheless, shotgun weddings help prevent the individuals involved, especially the women, from becoming social pariahs.
Apart from instances of regional slang, there is no universal, specific term for "shotgun weddings" in Arabic. This is because they are not recognised as a regular social phenomenon and because a successfully conducted Middle Eastern shotgun wedding is generally unknown to the guests. In some Persian Gulf nations, the term "police station marriage" (Arabic: زواج مخفر) may be the closest colloquial analogue for the concept of a "shotgun wedding".
Because of the sexual revolution beginning in the 1960s, the concepts of love, sexuality, procreation and marriage began to separate after being intimately entangled in social consciousness for centuries. However, sexual practice had not always followed social convention, resulting in shotgun or Knobstick weddings.
In the United States and Canada, the use of duress or violent coercion to marry is no longer common, although many anecdotal stories and folk songs record instances of such coercion in 18th- and 19th-century America and Canada. Pressure to marry immediately due to pregnancy has become less common as the stigma associated with out-of-wedlock births has declined and the number of such births has increased. As a result, the typical, voluntary wedding during pregnancy might be more neutrally termed a mid-pregnancy marriage. Mid-pregnancy weddings are common enough that many suppliers of both bridal gowns and maternity clothing sell wedding dresses that fit during the later stages of pregnancy.
While a 2016 study suggests that couples who wed while pregnant do not necessarily have an increased risk of subsequent divorce, another study by Duke University from that same year demonstrated that, among whites, divorce rates increased from 19% for non-pregnant brides to 30%.