Judge will issue temporary ruling on Ocean City topless ban

The ban on topless sunbathing in Ocean City, Maryland, could be temporarily halted. (WTOP/Nick Iannelli)

WASHINGTON — A federal judge will soon decide whether the ordinance banning women from going topless in Ocean City, Maryland, should be temporarily halted.

After hearing arguments from both sides Friday, Chief Judge James Bredar said he would issue a ruling in the coming days.

Five women are hoping the ban is put on hold until their lawsuit against Ocean City is resolved. They filed the federal suit earlier this year, claiming the ordinance is unconstitutional.

“We have never been a topless beach and we will not become a topless beach,” said Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan when the ordinance was first passed in June 2017. “Each year, thousands of families visit our beach to relax in an atmosphere free of this type of activity.”

Meehan reiterated those comments Friday at the U.S. District Court of Maryland in Baltimore, saying hundreds of residents have expressed support for the ban through emails, phone calls and in-person conversations.

DelmarvaNow reported that Meehan told the judge the ordinance “reflects the public’s sensibilities.”

Ocean City Council member Mary Knight testified along with Melanie Pursel, the head of the area’s Chamber of Commerce, about concerns they have heard from residents and visitors who do not want the beach to be topless.

Devon Jacob, a civil rights attorney who represents the plaintiffs, argued that women have the legal right to be bare-chested in public in the same places that men are permitted to be bare-chested.

The judge heard from human sexuality expert Debby Herbenick, who argued in favor of the plaintiffs.

“There have been changes in understanding so the female breast is seen as more normative,” Herbenick said during her testimony.

After the judge makes his ruling on whether the ban should be temporarily scrapped, the lawsuit itself is expected to continue well into 2019.

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