Ocean City Today

Topless beaches get banned in OC after media coverage

National headlines sparked from beach patrol captains memo seeking clarification
By Katie Tabeling | Dec 28, 2017
Source: File Photo Ocean City resident Carol Lynn Larkin voiced her concerns about the potential for topless sunbathing to negatively impact the beach experience for families during an emergency council session in June.

(Dec. 29, 2017) Inexplicably, it generated headlines across the country when the Ocean City Council banned women from sunbathing topless on the beach.

The publicity was inexplicable because Ocean City it was way out of proportion to what happened, which was one person challenging the status quo of covering up on the beach.

Eastern Shore resident and topless advocate Chelsea Covington wrote to Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby to clarify the laws on female bare-chestedness in public places in Maryland in 2016.

Oglesby wrote to Maryland Attorney General’s office for an opinion, but when summer arrived without a formal opinion issued, Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin ordered his staff to document instances while they wait for guidance.

“We will document the complaint on a minor incident form with information and particulars about the situation and the complainant’s information. We will not approach the topless woman, even if requested to do so by the complainant or other beach patrons,” he wrote.

The situation, apparently, was that a ban on bare breasts on the beach was not specifically supported by the law.

That memo sparked several news stories across the nation, as well as phone calls, emails and social media posts from visitors.

Days later, the mayor and City Council convened in a Saturday emergency session to ban topless sunbathing outright.

“We have never been a topless beach and we will not become a topless beach,” Mayor Rick Meehan said on June 10. “Each year thousands of families visit our beach to relax in an atmosphere free of this type of activity. We respect their rights.”

City Solicitor Guy Ayres said the issue was not one of privacy, as there is no constitutional right to appear public nude.

“One does not have the right to impose one’s lifestyle on others who have an equal right to be left alone,” he said. “The equal protection clause does not demand that things that are different in fact be treated the same in law,” he said. “Nor that a government pretend that there are no physiological differences between men and women.”

The emergency ordinance passed unanimously, and violators would be fined $1,000.

One week later, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh issued his opinion in defense with the city’s new ordinance.

Covington, meanwhile, had retained the services of national civil rights attorney Devon Jacob, who said his client was considering legal action.

As the year closed, however, Covington had not filed a lawsuit.

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