Emergency vote in Ocean City, Maryland: You can’t go topless here

By Chuck Johnston

(CNN) — A family-friendly seaside Maryland town on Saturday ended any confusion about whether it is now welcoming topless female sunbathers.

The City Council of Ocean City unanimously passed an emergency ordinance prohibiting public nudity — which states “there is no constitutional right for an individual to appear in public nude or in a state of nudity.”

“Whatever personal right one has to be nude or in a state of nudity that right becomes subject to government interest and regulation when one seeks to exercise it in public,” says the ordinance, which will remain in place until the state attorney general delivers an opinion on the matter.

Violators of the ordinance could face a fine of up to $1,000.

The ordinance also says that the “equal protection clause does not demand that things that are different in fact be treated the same in law, nor that a government pretend there are no physiological differences between men and women.”

In a statement, Mayor Richard Meehan said, “Ocean City has never been a topless beach. In order to clarify this the MCC today passed an emergency ordinance. This ordinance goes into effect immediately.”

The confusion started with a memo sent to Ocean City Beach Patrol employees on Tuesday. It described a change in policy and that lifeguards weren’t to police topless sunbathers.

Beach Patrol Capt. Butch Arbin explained the policy change to CNN affiliate WBOC:

“For the 44 years I’ve been guarding the beach in Ocean City, when we’d see (women) topless on the beach we would just tell them, ‘Hey, you can’t do that,'” Arbin said. “But since this formal request from someone, and since the Maryland attorney general’s office hasn’t issued their opinion on it, we don’t feel like we can tell people not to sunbathe topless.”

The change in policy was quickly picked up by local media, and spread like wildfire over social media.

On Friday, the mayor sought to clarify topless enforcement.

“Lifeguards in Ocean City are expected to have their eyes on the ocean, as the safety of our swimmers is their first priority. The town’s police department, on the other hand, will respond to calls from the Beach Patrol and complaints from our beach patrons, should any activity of toplessness occur,” he said.

The issue of women going topless at Ocean City’s beaches was prompted by Chelsea Covington, a female blogger who advocates topless equality, who reached out to the Worcester County state’s attorney’s office last August and requested an opinion on the issue. The county state’s attorney office reached out to the Maryland attorney general’s office for its opinion.

“The Maryland attorney general’s office is currently in the process of working on an opinion on the matter,” Raquel Coombs, spokeswoman for that office, told CNN.

“The goal is to have it completed in the near future,” Coombs said, without offering additional details on timing.

Meehan has been mayor for 10 years. He says in that decade, topless sunbathing hasn’t been an issue in Ocean City. He doesn’t recall any incidents where law enforcement needed to police female topless bathers.

The mayor says he’s received nearly 100 emails from concerned residents and visitors in the past week. He says he’s trying to respond to all these emails personally.

“People love Ocean City. Love the family atmosphere. Love the tradition. Our message is, it will not change.”

CNN’s Ray Sanchez contributed to this report.