Be careful when visiting foreign parts or in the company of aliens, because you never know... you just might end up married. A character (almost always a male) discovers that a seemingly innocent action now entitles him to a permanent fashion accessory — an intense young lady who insists that they are now married. Sometimes it's a delusion on her part, but sometimes it's valid — at least by the rules of the place where she grew up.
Naturally, this never happens to someone who would be willing to just walk away and leave her stranded. Or, for that matter, to someone who's willing to bite the bullet, settle down with their accidental bride, and have two and a half accidental children.
When set in modern times, the possibility of the marriage being real is usually set up by the officiant being a legitimate minister or justice of the peace.
As to the real-life possibility of an Accidental Marriage being valid (at least in North America), it's pretty remote: although courts in both the U.S. and Canada have decreed that a couple who thinks they're legally married is legally married, at the same time a marriage usually isn't considered valid without a marriage license, which has to be purchased before the wedding (and in most places both parties to the wedding have to buy the license together). This was originally meant to prevent marriage fraud, but it also allows the state or provincial government to make a little money on each ceremony.
Additionally, the "getting drunk and waking up married" type is not valid either, since the law requires that both parties enter into the relationship voluntarily and in full possession of their faculties. (This is nearly always in Las Vegas in the US version, due to the fact that unlike many states Nevada does not require a waiting period between obtaining the license and the marriage itself, and that the Clark County marriage bureau office in Las Vegas is open until midnight every day of the year, even weekends and holidays.)
Sister Trope to Accidental Proposal (indeed, that trope can often lead to this one).
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Lum's insistence that she is married to Ataru because he declared "Now I can get married!" (meaning to his girlfriend Shinobu) after winning the Tag Race in the first episode of Urusei Yatsura.
For the first movie, Ataru discovered that an alien princess he had played tag with as a child was interpreting the time he jumped on her shadow as a pledge to marry her In point of fact the tradition she was naming was mostly ignored by everyone, and it also turned out that young Ataru had lied about jumping on her shadow
Also in both the TV series and Manga, there was a story where a little earth girl with a crush on Jariten gave him some chocolate on valentines day, then telling him that by accepting it he'd promised to marry her. Everyone but Jariten found the whole thing cute and funny.
In Tenshi Ni Narumon, Yuusuke stumbles over Noel, who just happens to be napping in the nude in the middle of a forest. Their lips meet and she awakens, convinced that they are now married. This results in her entire kooky family moving into (and totally redesigning) Yuusuke's house.
Neneko's belief that she "gave up her flower" and is now married to Tomokazu because he accidentally fondled her rear end in an early episode of Yumeria.
In Photon, after getting the kana for baka drawn on his forehead by his mischievous childhood friend Aun, the title character draws the same characters on the forehead of the sleeping Keyne. Since in Keyne's culture, a man proposes to a woman by drawing his "personal symbol" on her forehead, Keyne awakens, discovers what happened, and concludes that she and Photon are engaged.
As the plot of DearS, the protagonist Takeya bonds with Ren through a direct kiss in the very first episode — then spent half of the series wondering what was going on between two of them.
In One Piece, Boa Hancock believes that she is married to Luffy after he hugs her. However she is too shy to ever talk to him about this, and her grandmother later clears up her misunderstanding.
Yuna Miyama from Maburaho declares Kazuki her husband in the first episode.
Revolutionary Girl Utena: Utena Tenjou is surprised to find herself engaged to Anthy, the Rose Bride, after winning a duel against her previous fiance, Saionji.
Subverted and parodied in Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei. Even though Itoshiki's hometown will marry anyone who makes eye contact, Itoshiki manages to spend the night there unmarried, even though in a desperate attempt to get him married, his family have sent various people who are good at making eye contact after Itoshiki... including footballers, thugs and a hideous 100-eyed monster.
There's a hilarious part of that episode where two of the people they hire get in a fight, make eye contact and end up engaged.
Rito Yuuki from To Love-Ru almost ends up accidentally married to Cute Alien Girl Lala until it actually comes time to go through with it. Lala, having known all along he didn't want to marry her and that his earlier confession was meant for someone else, backs off. At first she had been using him as an excuse not to have to go through with other marriage arrangements, but had quickly fallen for him and in the end didn't want to force him into anything.
Later also used... between Netherlands's pet bunny and Japan's dog Pochi. In exactly the same terms.
In My Bride Is a Mermaid, the main character Nagasumi is rescued by Seto Sun — the daughter of a Yakuza mermaid family. Turns out she would have to be executed for breaking the mermaid code of secrecy by saving Nagasumi, unless he marries her.
Subverted in You're Under Arrest! when Yoriko accidentally gets engaged to a foreign prince named Saki Abdusha when she held his hand. He shrugs it off in the end saying his customs don't apply in Japan. He still proposes to Yoriko later, but she refuses his offer since he's much younger than she is and both have too many things to do.
This trope just piles up in the second episode of Kyo Kara Maoh. Wolfram spends all of dinner needling the new monarch Shibuya Yuuri, and succeeds in angering him by insulting his mother — whereupon Yuuri slaps him across the face. Unbeknownst to Yuuri, this constitutes a proposal of marriage. Instead of clearing up the confusion, Wolfram's brothers urge Yuuri to 'take it back', but Yuuri, thinking they mean the insult of the slap, swears he never will. The insulted and embarrassed Wolfram then throws his cutlery on the ground, and when Yuuri picks it up, it turns out that dropping a knife is a challenge to a duel, and Yuuri has accepted by picking it up. Poor Yuuri is deeply bewildered. Yuuri wins the duel, and it's unclear whether having lost the duel means Wolfram isn't allowed to decline the marriage proposal, or if he just doesn't want to anymore; either way, the engagement stands.
Fanwank is that Wolfram lost his chance to decline, and Yuuri can't back out since he already swore to never take it back. Their marital state is pretty much in limbo.
Wolfram falls for Yuuri pretty hard before long, and becomes fanatically possessive of his fiancÚ, who is both naturally oblivious and in denial about this whole 'engaged to a guy' thing. Hilarity Ensues.
In a later episode a childhood friend of Wolfram's who considers them engaged due to similar circumstances appears, and Yuuri falls for the knife trick again, only this time he also accidentally points a spork at the challenger, which formally indicates that you have stolen someone's lover and intend to fight for them. Wolfram is touched.
In a filler episode of Rurouni Kenshin, Kenshin finds a ring inside the fish he catches for dinner. He hands it to his girlfriend Kaoru, not knowing what ring giving means... and is shocked when he realises he has just asked Kaoru to marry him without knowing it. Hilarity Ensues.
Played straight in a DC Elseworlds issue (Detective Comics Annual #7 (1994)). PirateBatman ("Captain Leatherwing") rescues a Noble Savage princess, and gives her a European dress to replace her torn clothing. Later, the princess (with her father interpreting) gives Leatherwing a bracelet. He accepts, not knowing that this exchange means that they are now married ... to the later consternation of Pirate Catwoman.
In Justice Society of America, the Huntress of an Alternate Universe is not married yet, but she tells Power Girl how her DA boyfriend had proposed, the Joker had attacked, maiming him, and she had never had a chance to refuse him — and now she can not abandon him.
ThisGlee fanfic has a version of this. It is different in that the marriage is between two girls.
In Manchester Lost, Aziraphale's last name has technically been 'Crowley' for the past 500 years or so; they both thought that the other had arranged the divorce.
In thisGlee fic, Kurt and Puck, get married sort of accidentally (Kurt is drunk and wants them to get married, Puck is sober but is willing to do whatever will make Kurt happy) when New Directions go to Las Vegas for Nationals. The marriage isn't legally binding, since Nevada doesn't have marriage equality, but throughout the whole fic they treat it like it is.
In thisThe Hobbit fan fic, it turns out that for elves, sex = marriage. Subverted in that the accidental bride wanted to get married, but did not intend to, due to the ensuing problems.
Films — Animated
The main character in Corpse Bride enacts a mock wedding vow rehearsal, not knowing that the "branch" he places the ring on at the end is actually the finger of a restless bride's corpse until it's too late. (The Corpse Bride was loosely based on a Russian-Jewish version of an older Jewish folktale.)
Films — Live-Action
James and Katie accidentally get married in The Decoy Bride by going through a fake ceremony (meant to distract the paparazzi from the real bride), but then signing both of their names to the register. They quickly seek a divorce, but end up together by the end of the film, anyway.
In The Scarecrow, Buster Keaton's character is found on one knee (he was tying a shoe) by the leading lady, who simpers and says, "This is so sudden." Luckily, he is in love with her, and they elope.
Among many other hijinks during their crazy night in Vegas, one of the characters in The Hangover manages to get himself hitched.
In Stargate, Daniel finds himself offered a bride because he's believed to be a messenger from the gods. He winds up falling in love with her, a rare instance of the accidental marriage staying together. Well, until she gets possessed by a Goa'uld in the series.
In The Searchers, Martin Pawley thinks he's buying a blanket from some Indians. Turns out he's married one of them instead. Ethan Edwards thinks its hilarious. He is also rather nicer to the unexpected bride than her 'husband' despite the fact she's a Commanche.
In Shanghai Noon, Chon Wang ends up accidentally married (from his POV) to the Sioux chief's daughter (who knew exactly what she was doing). She follows him around for the rest of the movie, periodically saving his ass, only to end up trading him in for Roy at the end.
Considering that Chon spends the entire film pining for a princess without giving his "wife" a second glance, it kind of makes sense.
In The Muppets Take Manhattan, the play that the Muppets are trying to get produced includes a scene where Kermit marries Miss Piggy. When the play is staged, a real minister plays the minister's role. There would be some debate after that film, in the Muppet-Verse, whether Kermit had actually married Miss Piggy. (He certainly didn't want anything like that, but The Show Must Go On...)
Years later they're still playing off this one. In the extras section of the first season Muppet Show DVD collection are a series of interviews with the Muppets. Piggy confirms that they are, Kermit is adamant that they aren't... and no one even ever says the "M" word.
And in The Muppets, it's still left somewhat ambiguous! They cohabited a mansion outside of Hollywood, where Piggy left Kermit prior to the film, and when they're reunited in the course of events she says, "You never intended to marry me." While that's certainly true and in accordance with the events of Manhattan, it's unclear whether the marriage was legit or if she left because she was tired of waiting for him to decide to make it real.
At the end of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, Hillary and Bryce nearly get married in an African ceremony which involves getting their hair braided, or so they are told.
Occurs in Romancing the Bride where the protagonist wakes up to find herself handcuffed to a complete stranger who tells her that they got married the night before (of course she has no memory of this).
In a rare instance of a woman becoming unwittingly married to a scheming man, in The Accidental Husband, the title character arranges to become married to the host of a relationship talk show as payback for having advised the former's girlfriend to break up with him.
Inverted in Alfred Hitchcock's only romantic comedy, Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941), when the long-married title couple learn that their marriage ceremony was not valid.
In What Happens In Vegas, a man and a woman accidentally end up married to each other after accidentally getting booked in the same room in Las Vegas and subsequently getting drunk and going out to find a wedding chapel. They initially decided that they need to get a divorce once the trip is over. The guy wins a $3 million jackpot on a slot machine, with a quarter the woman lent him. Since she's his wife now, she's entitled to half of it when they divorce. But when the judge finds out what happened, he decrees that they have to try to stay married for 6 months and attend marriage counseling, or no one gets the money.
In Laws of Attraction, two rival divorce attorneys end up married in Ireland after getting drunk in a festival while evaluating the couple's assets in their current case (on which they are on opposing sides). Subverted when it turns out to not be a real marriage: the minister was actually a butler.
In the 1923 silent Yiddish comedy East and West, freewheeling New York jazz baby Mollie travels to the old country with her father for a family wedding, and hilarity naturally ensues. The turning point of the movie involves a "pretend wedding" the night before the real one, which of course ends up being a valid wedding according to Orthodox Jewish law. The catch is that the groom is a young Telmudic scholar who knew that the "pretend" ceremony was binding, but didn't stop it because he was enamored with Mollie. It ends happily, though.
In Jeremiah Johnson, when Jeremiah and Del Gue are taken by surprise by some Christianized Flathead Indians, Jeremiah offers them some horses just to be polite and guarantee his safe release. Unfortunately, the Flatheads have a gift economy and are bound by tradition to respond to any gift with an even greater gift. The Flathead chief compels Jeremiah to marry his daughter.
That unavoidable marriage actually turns out rather well as they gain a genuine love for each other over time. Making it all the sadder when she and his adopted son are murdered towards the end.
In The Princess Bride, Buttercup believes she is married to the Prince, because Humperdink told the abbot to "skip to the end", so the abbot says "man and wife". Humperdink goes to fight a battle and Buttercup goes numbly to her chambers to kill herself. Westley informs her, despite not being there, that she didn't say "I do" and so she isn't. Happiness ensues.
Invoked in A Series of Unfortunate Events, when Count Olaf tries to marry Violet by having her act as the bride to his groom in a play, and having the minister be played by a real Justice of the Peace. While Olaf and Violet (as well as her brother, Klaus) both realize what he's doing (though Violet is unwilling), no one else does (including the minister).
In Patricia Briggs' Steal the Dragon, the male lead sets up a "communication spell" for the female lead that he knows is the first part of his people's marriage ceremony. He thought he could undo the spell after the Big Bad was defeated. However, the bride accidentally completes the magical ceremony on her own, making this an accidental marriage for both of them.
In Edgar Rice Burroughs's A Princess of Mars, John Carter listens to Dejah Thoris call him "my chieftain" with what he admits (with hindsight) was total cluelessness, and then calls her "my princess," inspiring much mirth on her part.
Dejah Thoris caught her breath at my last words, and gazed upon me with dilated eyes and quickening breath, and then, with an odd little laugh, which brought roguish dimples to the corners of her mouth, she shook her head and cried: "What a child! A great warrior and yet a stumbling little child." "What have I done now?" I asked, in sore perplexity. "Some day you shall know, John Carter, if we live; but I may not tell you. And I, the daughter of Mors Kajak, son of Tardos Mors, have listened without anger," she soliloquized in conclusion.
It turns out later that this is not an actual marriage by Barsoomian tradition (those are, apparently, fairly lavish affairs similar to Earthly ones); it could be regarded as either a) a somewhat inept attempt at a proposal, or b) a statement that he considers her his slave. She gets mad and refuses to talk with him any further when his next statement seems to indicate that it's b, though in fact he's just clueless and has no idea of the implications.
The displaced Earthwoman in Anne McCaffrey's Restoree is similarly clueless about the significance of the hero's use of the possessive 'my lady' in addressing her. However on his planet marriage really is just that simple - though equally easy to get out of - not that she wants to.
Man and Wife by Wilkie Collins. Geoffrey Delamyn and Anne Silvester accidentally get legally married in 19th century Scotland by each writing a note referring to the other as their spouse. At the same time, Geoffrey is trying to get rid of Anne by manipulating his friend Arnold into posing in public as her husband - believing that this will cause Anne and Arnold to become married. One of Wilkie Collins' reasons for writing the book was to encourage reform to Scottish marriage law.
In David Eddings' The Elenium, Sparhawk has to borrow Queen Ehlana's ring to work magic along with his identical matching ring. When he returns the ring, he can't tell the difference but she can. She takes him giving her his ring as a proposal and accepts. He can't very well argue when the queen says they're engaged.
About halfway through Esther Friesner's Majyk by Accident, the protagonist is saddled with a elven Welfin wife when he takes her hand to go to dinner. She's pleased because she loathes the Welfin way of life, the other Welfies are pleased because it means they can make demands of the protagonist, and nobody really cares what he thinks of it.
Du Chaillu from Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth books. Richard Rahl, at that point known as Cypher, saves her life, and proceeds to kill thirty warriors from her tribe, including her 5 husbands, proving through their prophesy that he's their savior, and she's now his wife. He, being Richard, tries to talk her out of it via pure logic and a desire to make people just think! We then proceed to write this whole incident off until The Temple of the Winds, when we realize, "Oh shit, Kahlan is Richard's third wife."
Subverted in Jack Higgins' novel The Wrath of God: the narrator rescues a Yaqui girl from rape by corrupt police and she hangs a medallion around his neck. He thinks it's just a gift to say thanks, but when he learns he's now married by Yaqui law, he likes the idea. Unfortunately, someone else has given him a dangerous mission, and he may not survive to settle down with the girl.
In The Wheel of Time books, when Mat discovers that Tuon is the woman he is fated to marry, he has a brief breakdown in which he proclaims that she's his bloody wife three times in a row. Turns out that in her culture, each party saying such three times is the essential part of the wedding ceremony, and Tuon's 3x response can take place any time within the next year.
The time is stated just after Mat finds out that he performed the first half of the ceremony. Doesn't matter as she completes it long before time is up.
And then there's Rand and Aviendha. Aviendha tries to keep an angry distance between them, but thanks to Rand's ignorance of Aiel culture his attempts to apologize to her keep turning out to be Aiel courtship rituals.
And Nynaeve claims she and Lan are engaged, under Two Rivers customs, because he gave her his ring. In a mixture of subverting reader expectations (since this is a real, modern custom, sort of) and possible retcon, she's lying because she really, really wants to marry him.
P. G. Wodehouse: The Jeeves and Wooster books are made of Accidental Engagements. Add to that the fact that poor Bertie can't seem to decide whether or not he wants to stay a bachelor...
Dune. Paul Atreides asks Fremen girl Chani if she'll carry his water tokens, startling her somewhat. Fortunately an amused Stilgar recognises that Paul is simply ignorant of what this implies among Fremen. They wind up (intentionally) married, so in the long run it wouldn't have mattered anyway.
Invoked in First Lord's Fury, the sixth book of Jim Butcher's Codex Alera: Kitai is worried about how people will see her relationship with Tavi because of all the things they've gotten up to without being married. Tavi points out that they more or less accidentally fulfilled the Marat marriage custom back in the first book, and they could claim to have been married since then.
In the Liaden Universe novel Agent of Change, Val Con gives Miri a small switchblade knife for protection — causing the alien Clutch Turtles with whom they are traveling to assume Val Con and Miri had gotten married. (Knives and rituals associated with them make up a significant part of the Clutch Turtles' society and culture.)
In Much Fall Of Blood Erik does this due to not knowing much about Mongol language and culture.
In the Star Trek novel Enemy Unseen, an ambassador from an extremely status-conscious culture is shamed that he could not protect three of his wives (they were poisoned by an agent trying to disrupt negotiations, and he was unable to treat the poison, forcing him to resort to having McCoy cure them.) so he invites Kirk to a "ceremony of repentance." At the end of it, he tells Kirk that Kirk should always take care of his new wives, and wishes him to take as much joy from them as the ambassador once did. (In a case of cultural projection, he views Kirk as a clan-head, and thus the actions of McCoy were Kirk's responsibility. Because it was demonstrated that Kirk could care for his wives better than he could, he was forced by his religious beliefs to pass their care to Kirk.)
In Tinker by Wen Spencer, Tinker is fluent in the everyday language of the elves. Her fluency leads the elf Windwolf to believe she understands the culture as well. When he offers her a gift "traditional for the occasion" he means the occasion of their betrothal, but she thinks he means the occasion of saving his life. When he asks if she wants to have sex with him, she thinks he means a quick roll in the hay, but he's offering his people's wedding ceremony (and a life-altering spell placed on her).
In J.M. Barrie's early Peter Pan story Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, it's explained that fairies get married simply by leaping into each other's arms (although a clergyman must be present). Later in the story, a character named Mamie Mannering (who was later Expied into Wendy Darling) leaps into Peter's arms, and the narrator points out that this "was a sort of fairy wedding".
Stardoc, by S.L. Viehl. Our heroine has been seeing a blue space hunk. Things start getting hot and heavy; that's when he springs on her that if they do the deed, they're as good as married in the sight of his culture. She accepts, but it ends badly.
Millicent writes to Helen that she honestly doesn't know how she ended up engaged to Mr. Hattersley in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. He asked, she said maybe, and her mother just ran with it.
Live Action TV
Mal's wedding to Saffron in the Firefly episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds" supposedly occurred by accepting a wreath, drink, and dance from the young lady. However, "Saffron" was actually a con-artist, taking advantage of the obscure tradition to get aboard without raising suspicion, with the ultimate intent of hijacking the ship.
However, Mal is lucky in that Saffron has been married many other times, some of her husbands are still alive because she only ripped them off, and the Alliance has laws against bigamy. Suffice to say, the marriage is invalid. Though Saffron does tease him about it the next time they meet.
The Tenth Doctor's throwaway line about marrying Queen Elizabeth is explained in "The Day of the Doctor". He thought she was a shape-shifter and was trying to Bluff the Impostor when he proposed. Turns out the alien was her horse — and he didn't count on the real deal saying yes. Elizabeth is quite serious and they take a moment out from the developing crisis to have a brief but licit wedding ceremony before the Doctor dashes off to the future to save the Earth — and England which is the part of it his new wife cares about. The Tenth Doctor's comment to the Ood about how Liz One will have to get a new nickname suggests they had a wedding night — eventually.
One episode of Hey Dude! had a subplot where a group of generically Eastern European guests were visiting the ranch, and one character accidentally proposed marriage to a young girl.
In Happy Days, Fonzie and Jenny go as bride and groom to a costume party on a yacht and, after an incident involving a performance with a minister played by the ship's captain, think they've accidentally gotten married, to Jenny's delight and Fonzie's horror.
In Arrested Development, cousins George Michael and Maeby wind up accidentally married while performing a mock wedding for a group of Alzheimer patients, because a real priest substituted for the usual caretaker that day and he was not informed that it was a mock wedding. However, because of the incredible Unresolved Sexual Tension between them, and the fact that they aren't even related by blood, this is both a bit less Squicky and infinitely more funny than it might otherwise be.
GOB once met a woman with whom he intended to have a one-night stand; instead, they ended up married for a few episodes thanks to a drunken dare. (The woman, by the way, was played by Amy Poehler, Will Arnett's real-life wife).
In a massive oversimplification of Greek marriage customs, Full House had an episode where both DJ and Jesse unknowingly married Greeks by walking around the table with them. The problem was easily solved, though: divorce was achieved by walking around the table backwards.
In GoGo Sentai Boukenger, a girl arrives at the base, saying Souta once proposed to her, though he'd never met her before. Turns out she's actually a cat. He'd once found her injured and took care of her, and had said he wished he could keep her. She sought him out after becoming human due to a shape shifting-inducing MacGuffin.
Just Shoot Me!: Maya and Elliot go to a mass wedding thinking that Dennis went there to marry a model and end up unwittingly married.
On Married... with Children, a recently divorced Marcy goes to a banking convention, has far too much to drink at a party, and wakes up the next morning married to the bartender from the night before. The bartender, Jefferson d'Arcy, played by Ted McGinley, would be Marcy's husband for the rest of the series.
On Who's the Boss?, after a trip to South Carolina in which they signed in to a motel as "Mr. and Mrs.", Tony and Angela somehow ended up as Common Law spouses under S.C. law. The ensuing effort to annul the marriage was less about ending the marriage than about Tony and Angela awkwardly dodging their own feelings on the subject.
Also an example of Hollywood Law, since Common Law Marriage requires both parties to have a public declaration of their mutual intent to be married in order to be valid. Just signing a motel registration book isn't enough.
There is still a law on the record in some states that say that if an unmarried man and woman both share a hotel room together they are considered married. Problem is that no one would ever try to enforce it nowadays.
Actually, the wording of the law in South Carolina stated that a common law marriage existed "if two people intend others to believe that they are married." Signing a hotel register with Mr. and Mrs. would certainly fall within the wording of the statute. (The state has since amended the law, and now no common law marriages will be recognized as valid unless they existed prior to December 31, 2010)
A brawl on TNA impact! during Kurt and Karen Angle's wedding re-vow ceremony resulted in Kurt's lackey A.J. Styles getting married to Karen. The two even went on a "honeymoon" the following week.
On Drake & Josh, Josh's foreign internet pal comes to visit and through a supposed friendship ceremony, Drake becomes married to the girl.
Similar to the Muppets example above, in The Office (US), Dwight helps Angela rehearse her wedding to Andy by playing Andy (while Andy plays the father of the bride.) They exchange "mock" vows, and Dwight later reveals that the German-speaking Mennonite was a real minister and that he tricked Andy into signing a marriage certificate for them, so they're actually married. Angela is not at all pleased.
A variation of this comes in a first-season Taxi episode. John Burns picks up a girl at Mario's with the line, "Let's just skip everything and get married." Not only does it get him a date, but she accepts his proposal. (As John later explains to the other cabbies, each of them was expecting the other to call it off...but they went through with it.) Later, the couple plan to get the marriage annulled, but by the episode's end they actually decide to make a go of it.
In the Babylon 5 episode "The Parliament of Dreams," the main characters, as part of a "Galactic Religions Week" on the eponymous station, experience an extremely confusing Minbari religious ceremony involving eating red fruit and some intense looks between the Minbari Ambassador Delenn and the human commander, Jeffrey Sinclair. As it turns out, although the people attending it were told that it was a "rebirth" ceremony, Sinclair's lover Catherine Sakainote To whom he later actually proposes—and whom he marries—married—well, it involves Time Travel. informs him that it could also have doubled as a wedding. He jokes that he didn't think that Londo and G'Kar were one another's type.
Most interestingly, this is actually a bit of Aborted Arc; Delenn and Sinclair were supposed to get married, but then J. Michael Straczynski realized that Sinclair's personal arc logically would have to end with Season 1; as a result, Sinclair gets Put on a Bus to Minbar and Delenn ends up marrying Sinclair's replacement, John Sheridan.
In Stargate SG-1 O'Neill unknowingly eats a "marriage cake" on an alien planet and sleeps with the woman who made it (presumably the cake was drugged as it is unlikely he would have had sex with a strange woman otherwise.) Unfortunately, he ends up with an unusual STD that causes rapid aging. Whoops.
In a variant, Angela on Bones was shocked to learn that a drunken-party ceremony she'd participated in on Fiji was actually considered a valid marriage by the U.S. State Department. She'd been so drunk that she forgot it'd happened, and hadn't known that the presiding party-goer was legitimately authorized to perform weddings. This is particularly strange, because she finds this out while looking for a higher security clearance. Then, when she's attempting to marry Hodgins, their wedding is interrupted by someone telling her what she should have already known. For several more episodes, she tries to find her husband to get a divorce, but has no idea who he is. Doubly strange because, as she was intoxicated and doesn't really remember it, not to mention can't even remember what her husband looks like, she could get annulment without needing him, but for some reason chooses to go through various wacky hijinks to figure out who he is and get him to sign the divorce papers. When they find him and he refuses, it's treated as if she's now trapped in the marriage, even though that's not at all the case.
Passions had Theresa drunkenly marry Julian. No matter, he faked his own death not too long after. The series finale revealed that Theresa was free to marry Ethan because Gwen had married someone else (offscreen) when drunk some years ago. Talk about a copout.
Inverted in an episode of Gilligan's Island: The Millionare and his wife find out they're accidentally not married because their priest was a fraud.
In Farscape, the "Look at the Princess" trilogy. The wedding itself is completely on purpose (though John was REALLY forced into it by the bride's mother giving him an impossible choice.) However, he didn't realize that by kissing the princess and being found genetically compatible with her, he would be expected to marry her (since her DNA had been poisoned so no one else was compatible with her.) Damn those alien politics.
On 30 Rock, a French-speaking minister accidentally married Jack to Liz instead of Avery. At first they planned to just sign the divorce papers, but then Pete pointed out that this gave Liz leverage to get Jack to stop slashing the TGS budget. Cue Escalating War as each struggles to get more leverage over the other.
Ross and Rachel in Friends engage in the drunk-in-Vegas variant of the trope.
In another Friends storyline, Joey finds an engagement ring in Ross's jacket after Rachel's had her baby. Rachel sees him with the ring and accepts Joey's "proposal". Much humorous misunderstanding later, Joey explains to Rachel that he wasn't proposing, Ross was ... and Ross says no, he wasn't proposing either.
On Red Dwarf, in series 6 the Dwarfers have to barter for an oxygen unit from a planet of GELFs. Their price? Lister as bridegroom to a female yeti.
An episode of M*A*S*H has Winchester "married" to a fun-loving woman during his Rn R to Tokyo. Turns out that he drunkenly called for someone to marry them, and the bartender obliged just to shut him up. It isn't valid, but the camp throws them a drunken unwedding.
B.J.: With the power vested in me by the state of intoxication, I pronounce you man and woman. You may now ignore the bride.
In one episode of The Big Bang Theory, Penny believes she had a fake marriage with Zack in Las Vegas, but the gang tells her it was a legal marriage. In the rest of the episode they try to convince Zack he should divorce Penny.
An episode of Charmed had a variation on the Vegas version: Paige casts a spell on Phoebe intending to help her find love. Unfortunately, it just bewitched Phoebe and her current boyfriend Dex, causing them to become ultra lovey-dovey and get married. The trance breaks when they cross the threshold, and they're very confused as to why they're dressed as bride and groom, he was carrying her, and they have rings.
That's So Raven once got accidentally engaged to a visiting foreign prince. She though a series of gifts (something like a rock, a feather, a bracelet, and a dress) was just flirting, when it was actually a proposal, and the party she was attending was intended to be their wedding. When she explains the situation to the prince, he understands and releases her, no hurt feelings.
In Castle's season 6 finale, Beckett and Castle discover (much to their shock and disgust, since they are getting married in a few days) that she drunk-married the boyfriend she had at university during a trip to Las Vegas. Most of the episode deals with Kate trying to get him to sign the annulment papers. It turns out the 'husband', a small time con artist, knew what happened all along but instead of contacting Kate and getting a divorce, he has been telling people that she had an accident and has been in a coma for the last fifteen years. This way he could maintain a 'semi-married' state where he would be free to date other women but his girlfriends would not pressure him to divorce his wife and marry them. Kate is definitely not amused when she finds out about that.
In Arthurian legend, Percival has No Social Skills, being raised in isolation by his mother. When he first meets his future love interest he exchanges rings with her, unaware of what his gesture signifies. Later, when he figures it out, he sets off in search of her to make good his proposal.
The song "Last Name" by Carrie Underwood completely states the whole "Getting drunk and waking up married" thing to a sheen.
In the farce Engaged by W. S. Gilbert, it is claimed that a man and woman can become legally married in Scotland simply by declaring themselves to be husband and wife. Two characters claim to be married in order to repel a spurned suitor, and then discover that they've inadvertently become married. But it turns out that although the cottage they were visiting was in Scotland, the yard they were standing in was in England.
Slightly downplayed in The Drowsy Chaperone, as MR. Feltzeig tries to present Kitty as a new mind-reading act, and she reads his mind as, "Kitty, will you marry me?" She says yes, and he has to go along with it or else he's lose his leading act again.
In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Link accepts the Zora's sacred jewel so he can open the Door of Time, only to discover with some confusion that he is now engaged to Princess Ruto.
In the mod for The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind "Julan: Ashlander Companion," there is a point where, without thinking, Julan tells the female player character she should marry him after he becomes leader of his tribe. According to the mod, the leader of a tribe is the one who conducts marriage ceremonies, and since Julan is by now said leader, he and the PC are now married.
In episode 3 of Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures, Wallace accidentally proposes to Miss Flitt while picking up a lugnut that she mistakes for a wedding ring. Sorting this out takes up a good part of the plot of episode 4.
Tears to Tiara. First Arawn winds up married to Riannon as a political thing. Then he marries Morgan to save her from getting executed, and it's not even entirely clear if he realizes this one. Then he burns a seal pelt that belongs to Llyr, so that's three. For four, he accidentally marries Octavia because he grabbed her hand. At the rate he's going everyone on earth is going to marry him, apparently.
Thankfully in the anime adaptation, Arawn only marries the first three mentioned above. Octavia doesn't marry him because he never held her hand. Instead, she might marry Arthur since he held her hand after their sword fight.
In the sequel Tears To Tiara 2, Hamil was apparently under the impression that the religious rituals he performed to summon divine reinforcements for war meant he's married to the goddess Ashtarte. She didn't think so. Not that she's complaining once she found out.
In Super Paper Mario, this is actually what sets the entire story into motion. Princess Peach is hypnotized into marrying Bowser (an odd couple if ever there was one) which is what fulfills a prophecy which begins the destruction of the universe. You should know what happens next: Mario comes to save the day. Of course.
In Blue Dragon, the fact that Marumaro is wearing exactly one hat is interpreted as a proposal of marriage by the girls of Kelaso Village.
You don't actually end up married, but due to your character's lack of knowledge of Echani culture in Knights of the Old Republic II, it is possible for a male character to be flirting with/courting the Handmaiden without realizing it.
In Starcraft II, Jim Raynor's Lancer Matt Horner once got himself married to the mercenary Mira Han after winning a card game, claiming he didn't know what the prize was going to be. A portrait of his lovely wife. Needless to say, he made little to no effort to stay in touch with her. This didn't stop her from using the alias "Mira Horner".
Mira Han: Oh and, um, say hello to Matthew for me; ask him why he never calls. Matt Horner: [does the "I'm not here!" gesture] [after the mission] Matt Horner: If Mira calls, I'm—Just tell her I'm busy.
In the back story of Firan MUX, two of the Seven Heroes, Bannos and Shara, find themselves married to each other when visiting the Ticanee by sleeping in the same tent together (while the crowd loudly encouraged them). Players, however, only marry through code that explicitly prevents accidental marriage (though it could happen in theory).
In the Mystery Case Files game Escape From Ravenhearst, the Master Detective is trapped in a seemingly endless series of puzzles and crazy situations concocted by her Back from the Dead archnemesis, Charles. She reaches the final act and finds that things are very different - classical music, rose petals, what the heck's going on...she solves yet another puzzle and discovers that Charles believes this means she's accepting his proposal of marriage.
More like "accidental first date", but okay. In Fire Emblem Awakening, Stahl's B support with Cherche has him asking her to help him gather firewood. She quickly tells him that in her hometown, a guy inviting a girl to gather firewood indicates romantic interest since firewood is supposed to ignite the flames of apssion in the girl's heart. Stahl is greatly embarrassed when he hears that, but they go in this "first date" anyway.
In a rare female victim example, the main Earth character in Our Home Planet accidentally gets married to the youngerof theD'boSisters by biting her on the middle finger. It was in self-defense because they were trying to eat her and her roommate. And then she tried to invalidate the marriage by claiming her roommate was her wife, causing the both of them to be married. Then the alien prince Julian did the same thing when trying to defend himself.
This is pretty much the entire point of the plot of Marry Me: A guy is dragged to a concert by his lesbian friend who adores the singer and has a sign that reads "Marry Me." She asks him to hold up the sign for her while she goes to the bathroom. Guess what the singer does next? In this case the hapless guy actually does decide to ride it out, and ends up genuinely falling in love with her. Also, toward the end they find out that they aren't actually married. They decide to get married for real, anyway.
Happens in a side-story of Collar 6 where a man finds out that he became a sub to a dom woman without remembering it (due to a knock on the head) since dom/sub relationships in that universe resemble marriages in the sense that they are contracted and the slave collar serves the purpose of a wedding ring.
On The Simpsons, Homer and Ned marry two floozies while drunk in Vegas, despite already being married. This actually winds up being a rare subversion of the Reset Button, because a later episode has their wives track them down and get a judge to declare their legal standing (in Simpsons-world, bigamy is apparently legal in Nevada, though not in real life). Things are alright for Ned since Maude is dead, but Homer now has to sleep in the tree house.
Fry and Leela of Futurama once got married without either of them quite knowing how it happened; the entire courtship and wedding happened during a time warp, with the result that they found themselves standing at the altar with no memory of how they got there. After a second timeslip, they're in divorce court.
Also nearly happens when the deaf Leela makes a deal with the Robot Devil, agreeing to give him "her hand" in exchange for robotic ears. According to the fine print, it was her hand in marriage.
Bender:[singing] The use of words expressing something other than their literal intention! Now THAT is Irony!
Subverted on King of the Hill when Peggy and Hank hold a mock wedding for Bobby and Luanne to try to end a prank war between the two. Bobby thinks he got Luanne pregnant by replacing her birth control pills with candy, and Hank tells him he can atone by making an honest woman of her, though Luanne knows it's a joke. After the fake ceremony performed by Bill, Hank and Peggy tell Luanne Bill really is a minister, so they really are married. Bill gives the truth away before the end of the episode.
Invoked on Total Drama World Tour:Stalker with a CrushSierra tricks Cody into this by reciting the marriage vow really fast and getting him to say "I do," arguing it counts since she became an ordained minister on the Internet. Subverted at the beginning of the next episode when Heather points out they didn't have a marriage license or any of the other trappings in the first place (even ignoring the issues of their age or his informed consent).
Subverted on Ugly Americans—Mark accidentally agrees to take part in some weird demonic ritual for his girlfriend Callie. A lot of the festivities seem to mean it's a wedding, either directly (white dress, ice sculptor) or indirectly (killing her ex-boyfriends), but it turns out she actually plans to suck out his soul. When he manages to get out of it (and cheers her up bydumping pig blood on her) he asks if all this means they're engaged, and she tells him not to be an idiot.
In Ben 10: Omniverse, a Tetramand princess named Looma claims that Kevin is her fiance and pursues him throughout the episode. Kevin reveals that years ago he got engaged to her so he could get his hands on an indestructible Tetramand engine block for his car. When it looks like the marriage is about to go through, Ben steps up and challenges Looma in order to save Kevin. Kevin is very pleased by this and knocks out Argit when the latter is about to reveal that if Ben wins he will become Looma's fiance. Of course, Ben wins. Looma and her father are very pleased with this result. Ben, not so much.
In Israel, Jewish law is the law of the land when it comes to marriage, divorce, and such matters for Jewish Israelis.note Islamic law is the law of the land for Israeli Muslims, canon law is the law of the land for Israeli Catholics, various Christian codes is the law of the land for each of the various sects, etc. Unless you were married in a foreign country, in which case that country's law applies. Annoying, we know. In Jewish law, pronouncing "You are consecrated to me through this ring in accordance with the religion of Moses and Israel" in the presence of two witnesses, then having sex, is a legal marriage. So what was intended as a joke was resolved by a legal divorce.