The City Council of a Maryland beach community held a special session Saturday to pass an “emergency ordinance” explicitly barring women from removing their tops at the beach — or in any other public place.

Ocean City Mayor Richard Meehan called the meeting to “protect” family rights after the local shore patrol decided they would no longer order topless women to cover up. That decision was made after local “top free” activist Chelsea Covington complained to officials last summer that the state constitution prohibits gender discrimination, which she argued would make laws ordering only women to wear tops illegal.

Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby decided that the law on indecent exposure was unclear and asked for a final opinion from the Maryland attorney general’s office, which is still pending. Until an opinion is issued, the beach patrol did not believe it could take action against topless women as it had in the past, said Ocean City Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin.

That’s when Meehan went into overdirve. “Ocean City is a family resort and we intend to do whatever is within our ability to also protect the rights of those families,” he declared.

The city’s new emergency ordinance amends the town code concerning nudity. While continuing to prohibit exposure of male and female genitalia, it also clearly declares that it is illegal to expose “the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering” on the beach and in any public area. Anyone who does so will be subject to a fine of up to $1,000. 

The ordinance, read during the videotaped session Saturday, states that “there is no constitutional right for an individual to appear … in a state of nudity.”

It adds: “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 was passed unanimously and took effect immediately. 

Meehan declared at the end of the session: “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.”

A town spokeswoman said the law won’t affect breastfeeding.

At the start of the session, City Solicitor Guy Ayres read the ordinance, which included a list of reasons why the law is legal and why it does not violate constitutional protections against discrimination.

“Equal protection” 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,” Ayres read..

He added: “People don’t have the right to impose their lifestyle on others who have an equal right to be left alone. Ayres also said that “females baring their breasts in public, although not offensive to everyone, is still seen by society as unpalatable.”

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