Lawmakers in Ocean City, Maryland, unanimously passed an emergency ordinance Saturday prohibiting public nudity in the beach resort town after a law enforcement memo last week directing beach patrol officers not to cite topless women went viral.
The ordinance states “there is no constitutional right for an individual to appear in public nude or in a state of nudity,” Ocean City announced on its official website. “Whatever personal right one has to be nude or in a state of nudity, that right becomes subject to government interest and regulation when one seeks to exercise it in public.”
The ordinance took effect immediately, and violators — anyone showing “the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering,” according to the local Fox affiliate — are subject to a fine of up to $1,000.
“This ordinance provides clarity as to the position of the Town of Ocean City, that we will not allow women to be topless on our beach or on any public property within city limits,” Ocean City Mayor Richard Meehan said Saturday on his Facebook page.
Ocean City officials struggled to explain their stance on toplessness this week after the town’s beach patrol issued a memo Tuesday concerning its “official procedure for topless females on the beaches of Ocean City.”
“There has been a recent request to the Worcester County State’s Attorney by a woman who wants to be able to sunbath [sic] on the Ocean City beaches without a top,” the memo said. “We will not approach the topless woman, even if requested to do so by the complainant or other beach patrons” pending input from the city council, mayor and state officials.
Mr. Meehan said he has received “hundreds of calls and emails from residents and visitors, expressing their concerns over this issue,” the Delmarva Now website reported Saturday.
“Each year, thousands of families visit our beach to relax in an atmosphere free of this type of activity. We respect their rights,” he said. “We will not allow women to be topless on our beach or on any public property within the city limits. We have never been a topless beach, and we will not become a topless beach.”
The ordinance passed Saturday also states that the “equal protection clause does not demand that things that are different in fact be treated the same in law, nor that a government pretend there are no physiological differences between men and women,” according to the Ocean City website.
The ordinance does not apply to breastfeeding, an Ocean City spokesperson told Delmarva Now.
The Maryland Constitution arguably allows men and women to be topless, as Article 46 states that a law cannot give preferential treatment based on sex or gender, the website reported.
The Maryland Attorney General’s Office has not yet weighed in on the topic, but Mr. Meehan said the town ordinance would trump the state’s decision if Annapolis says women can go topless, Delmarva Now reported.
“This order would still apply in the Town of Ocean City unless it were challenged in court,” Mr. Meehan said Saturday. “This is the ordinance that we’re going to enforce in the town.”
• Andrew Blake can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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