Ocean City Today

Topless ban likely unconstitutional

Readers' Forum
Jun 29, 2017



printed 06/30/2017



Once again the Ocean City Council will be heading to a federal district court to defend one of its ordinances.

On June 10, at a special meeting of the City Councila, an ordinance was approved to prevent women from going topless on the Ocean City beach.

On June 14 attorneys at the Maryland Attorney General Office issued an advisory letter that basically validated the council’s actions.

Unfortunately between those two dates, the United State Supreme Court issued a June 12 opinion in Sessions, Attorney General v. Moralessantana.

This case found certain gender discrimination to be unconstitutional. This opinion, written by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who writes most opinions of the Court concerning gender discrimination, stated that in all gender-based classifications, the government must show that its gender-based classification serves important governmental objectives.

More importantly, Justice Ginsberg went on to say that the gender classification must serve an important governmental interest in today’s world because “new insights and societal understandings can reveal unjustified inequality … that once passed unnoticed and unchallenged.”

I believe that “family resort” argument of the Ocean City government will not be found to be a valid reason for the gender discrimination concerning male and female breast.

The one Ocean City resident who appeared before the Ocean City Council on June 10 made a statement that could be highly detrimental to Ocean City argument that gender discrimination is needed to protect Ocean City’s “family resort” image.

The 70-year-old witness, who supported the ordinance, told the council that she had a son-in-law who is a police sergeant in a law enforcement organization.

She went to say that in regard to the past and present Ocean City activities, “true there were problems but nothing like now. I am almost afraid and I have been cautioned by my son-in-law and my daughter not to go the Boardwalk by myself.”

Also, the council did not consider what could be viewed as reasonable alternatives to the blanket ban preventing topless women on the beach. For example, certain areas of the beach could be designated topless area?

This would be similar to the council designating certain areas of the beach that are limited to surfing activities.

Of course, many old timers will also remember the early 1900s Ocean City law prohibiting men from being topless on the Boardwalk during the evening hours.

This was eventually repealed to reflect what Justice Ginsberg’s call “new insights and societal understandings.”

This witness’ statement made a public council meeting where the topless ordinance was passed raise a serious question as to whether Ocean City is really the family resort that the council is using to support the gender discrimination between men and women breast.

In addition, the council did not consider reasonable alternatives to the topless issue. Based on past opinions’ of Justice Ginsburg, I believe it is likely that the federal courts will find the current Ocean City topless ordinance to be unconstitutional.

Joanne Holdan


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