Though marriages (ideally) should be an act of free will between two parties who are hopefully in love and not held at gunpoint, shotgun weddings are an example of the persuasive powers of a Smith and Wesson. In these cases, someone—say the groom, who just happened to get the girl pregnant—is “prodded” into the relationship with the glaring threat of what would happen if he doesn’t. It’s clearly not so much a story of “I do” than “I’ll blow your brain into pieces if you don’t.”
The shotgun wedding as a way of protecting a pregnant bride’s honor and good name has long and deep roots (though not all of them actually involved shotguns). Society saw marriage as the only way to “correct” the unfortunate circumstance of a child born out of wedlock, especially since it was believed that women should preserve their virginity for marriage. Any woman who was in any way perceived as “unchaste”—and a baby was clear proof of a sexual encounter—would have been hard put to find another husband.
Of course, times have changed, and society has become more accepting of single mothers (in fact, many women choose to raise their children on their own). There are few traditional families, though, who may find their own ways to “encourage their children into having a wedding. Note, however, that proof that a wedding was done under duress is grounds for annulment.
The term “shotgun wedding” has also been used as a metaphor for any agreement done in haste and under extreme pressure—like a business merger between two companies who would otherwise have gone into bankruptcy.