Our friend Wendy McElroy of iFeminists argues that “runaway bride” Jennifer Wilbanks shouldn’t be be required to pay back the $60,000 that the town of Duluth, Ga., spent to investigate her as a missing person before it was learned that she was merely skipping out on her behemoth wedding. Wendy points out that it’s not a crime to leave town and that Wilbanks violated no law until, well after her disappearance, she invented a kidnaping and rape story for the police:

“As far as I am concerned, Wilbanks should be disowned by her parents, shunned by friends, and bitten by the family dog.

“But she is a free human being. Except for the purpose of fraud or other crime, she has a legal right to disappear, to run out on a wedding. The alternative is to require people to inform authorities about their whereabouts and movements, as they were required to do in the Soviet Union.

“And this is another danger that the dubious likes of Wilbanks inflict upon society. It is all too possible that people will react to the mass coverage of her family’s pain by calling for a law to prevent similar occurrences. And, so, because of a mentally and morally unbalanced woman, every one of us could become a little less free.

“The fact that Wilbanks broke no law up until the final moments of the lamentable episode has another implication that the news should be exploring. Namely, it is far from clear that she should be liable for the estimated $60,000 it cost police to search for her. After all, Wilbanks did not file a report on herself; she did not seek assistance from the police. The tens of thousands of dollars and man hours wasted on the search for her occurred before she did anything legally wrong. And they would have been spent whether or not she made a false statement.

“What Wilbanks did was exercise a legal right: she left town without giving notice. To attach financial liability to the exercise of a legal right has tremendous implications and should never be done lightly.”

Wendy may have a point: The more I learn about Wilbanks–the shoplifting arrests, the 14 bridesmaids, and the $250 Waterford ice bucket–the more I’m convinced that it was a good idea for her to check herself into a mental hospital, and the more sternly I’d suggest to her fiance, John Mason, that he might look into becoming a runaway groom.

Meanwhile, since Georgia is a dreaded red state and we have learned that Mason is a devout Christian who decided the couple should wait until their wedding night for sex, Wilbanks has (naturally) evolved into a poster child of the left. Here’s Cary Tennis gushing on Salon (subscription or endurance of tedious ad-athon required):

“So while the groom stewed, the media speculated and indignant townspeople knit their brows in censorious disapprobation, I secretly wished that the Runaway Bride had gone off to become a showgirl. Just for the thrill of it, I wanted to see her go as far as she could. Go, go, go, Runaway Bride! Go as far as you can from Georgia, beyond Las Vegas to California, Oregon, Alaska, across the Bering Strait to Siberia and over the Steppes into Mongolia, China, Tibet! Go, frightened bride of the South! Run from that Bible-toting paramour with the square head, flee the harsh whisky-soaked legacy of slavery and politely simmering women, flee the pecan groves and peanut farms, flee all those Southern belles who never ring and all those good old boys who are neither all that good nor all that old! Flee! Go! Run away!….

“[F]or four days she kept at bay the fearsome tide of custom. She made one last gesture of freedom toward the open road. Who knows what life unlived now lies stillborn on the floor of that Greyhound bus? It’s not for us to say; but she made a break for it, feeble and doomed as it was.”

Yeah, sure, a 32-year-old showgirl. Or read this blog post concluding that Wilbanks went nuts because she was sex-starved.

Liberals keep wondering “what’s the matter” with the “Bible-toting” folks of the South and Midwest who won’t vote their way. Maybe those benighted souls click onto Salon every now and then and don’t like what they read said about them.