Anticipating increased visitorship here thanks to another round of local media attention that escalated to an interview with the Washington Post this afternoon, I offer this update.
Ten months ago, the Office of the Attorney General of Maryland accepted a request to issue an opinion on the legality of female bare-chestedness from the Worcester County State’s Attorney. Worcester County is where the beaches of Ocean City, Maryland, Assateague State Park and Assateague National Seashore are situated. The State’s Attorney and I had exchanged several E-mails and phone calls before he made his request in August, 2016.
This opinion is a big deal because it will carry the weight of the top attorney for the governments of Maryland.
The original opinion request was worded to ask if female toplessness was legal in Maryland, but I think because it obviously is, at some point the wording on the opinion request was changed to examine whether a local ordinance that treated genders differently would be unconstitutional.
This is an important distinction. The first question is frankly easy. There are no laws making female bare-chestedness illegal in Maryland. That is plainly obvious and has finally been acknowledged this month by the Ocean City Beach Patrol and Ocean City Police Department in statements made to the local press. (Apparently this came up because three women, none of whom were me, were seen sunbathing bare-chested in Ocean City last weekend and an observer inquired to a beach patrol crew member about the legality of it and received a response that “there’s nothing we can do about it.”)
Somehow this got to the local reporter, Shawn Soper, Maryland Coast Dispatch, who I respect more and more as a professional journalist, who wrote a story complete with a confirmation from the head of the beach patrol that they had “been advised” to not approach “topless sunbathers.” This seems to imply some communication from a higher authority, but I haven’t heard anything from the State’s Attorney or OAG directly yet.
Anyway, the second phrasing of the question is much more forward-looking and anticipates what the OAG thinks the high court of Maryland would rule in the event a local government attempted to pass a discriminatory law (think Fort Collins, Colorado or Springfield, Missouri last year, two cities that both lost in federal courts in 2016 after attempting to make female bare-chestedness illegal.)
The Attorney General’s Office said it would have an opinion issued in 3-9 months, but my last correspondence with them in May brought news that they were not yet finished with the opinion document and would not be issuing it before the 9 months passed.
That leaves all of the parties in this conversation in a strange limbo. But it appears that the local authorities have finally accepted that Maryland law allows female bare-chestedness. And that’s a significant win. Now we wait to hear if the OAG thinks local governments can make discriminatory laws.
Stay tuned for more.