There's a burning question before U.S. District Court in Baltimore that will require great wisdom in deciding fairly: If men can go topless at the beach, why can't women?
The case has been brought by five women who are challenging an Ocean City ordinance banning bare chested females on the beach at Maryland's most popular resort. Presumably if they prevail, the case could have resounding ramifications at beaches nationwide.
According to the Washington Post, the case started when Chelsea Eline, a regular beachgoer who runs a blog called Breasts are Healthy, asked the city to give the beach patrol and police officers clearer instructions so women could sunbathe bare-chested without confrontation.
When the controversy generated national attention, Ocean City officials passed an emergency ordinance banning bare female chests in public. Officials said it was designed to “protect public sensibilities” and the beach town’s family-friendly atmosphere.
After the Maryland Attorney General's office advised the town that the ban was legally sound, Eline sued and the matter ended up in federal court, where a hearing was held Friday on the plaintiff's request that the judge, James K. Bredar, temporarily halt enforcement of the ordinance as the lawsuit proceeds. Of course, everyone involved is awaiting the judge's written opinion with bated breath.
In 1991, a federal appeals court determined that exposing female breast in public offends moral sensibilities, and so the government has a right to require women, but not men, to keep their tops covered. I thought that was pretty puritanical then, and I still think so. And I agree with Eline that such a distinction is decidedly sexist.
In the hearing, Ocean City officials defended their ban on female chests at the beach saying they want to protect the resort's family-friendly image. The town told the judge that it had received "an outpouring" of calls, emails and complaints objecting to the idea of lifting the ban. Some even threatened to cancel reservations and never return to Ocean City.
"People were astounded by this," the Post quoted Mayor Richard Meehan as saying. "They were very upset."
But the plaintiffs contended that roughly 150 complaints received by the city represent a tiny fraction of the 8 million people who visit Ocean City every year.
I think the whole argument is silly.
Go to the beach in many countries abroad and you'll find "European-style sunbathing," and as this Tripadvisor.com discussion indicates, not everyone there who is showing it all actually meets "model standards." The big concern by people participating in the discussion was whether there would be less-than-attractive women "with hairy armpits" strolling the beach with their boobs bouncing.
Come on, people. Don't we have more important things to worry about these days than whether or not female beachgoers remove their bikini tops?
Get a life.