In a victory for topless advocates, Ocean City Council has issued a memo directing its beach patrol to not confront barechested women regardless of complaints from residents.
The policy will stand until the Maryland Attorney General’s Office gives an opinion on indecent exposure laws, which are unclear as to whether or not exposing one’s breasts constitutes a crime.
The controversy was sparked after Chelsea Covington, a topless advocate, submitted a legal brief to Maryland two years ago arguing that being bare chested in public is not prohibited by law, and that is a violation of equal protection laws to allow men to go topless but not women.
"It's about equality, it's about positivity, and it's against body shaming and the forced sexualization of the female form,” said Chelsea to the Baltimore Sun. “It is most certainly about equality under the law."
Ocean City officials, however, are not pleased. There’s a real fear that bare-breasted women will ruin the popular resort town’s reputation as a family-friendly vacation spot.
City official Jessica Waters stated, "The mayor and council have no desire to make Ocean City a topless beach. We have no plans for becoming a topless beach."
Currently, Maryland law states that "a person convicted of indecent exposure is guilty of a misdemeanor and is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or a fine not exceeding $1,000 or both." However, the law is mute on the issue of barechested women, as the common law only makes reference to bared genitals.
The issue of toplessness is not limited to Maryland. While many states allow the practice, challenges are being made nationwide.
Last February a federal judge in Colorado struck down a Fort Collins city ordinance that made it illegal for women to expose their breasts in public without similarly prohibiting the practice for men. Conversely, an Illinois federal judge dismissed a case brought against the City of Chicago by an arrested topless protester, arguing that the Supreme Court has held that "public nudity is not inherently expressive" and protected under the First Amendment.
Speaking from the Maryland Attorney General’s office, spokeswoman Raquel Coombs said Thursday that a legal opinion is forthcoming and is expected “to be released soon".