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Federal lawsuit against Ocean City’s topless ordinance will likely cause the debate to linger into 2019

Sunbathers crowd the beach in Ocean City, Maryland July 22, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel SLIM (Photo credit should read DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images)

OCEAN CITY, Md. — A federal civil suit challenging a city ordinance barring women from going topless on Ocean City’s beaches could linger into 2019, meaning controversy over the issue will linger through at least one more beach season in the Maryland resort town.

The suit is currently being argued in the U.S. District Court of Maryland, according to a York Daily Record report.

The plaintiffs contend that it is a woman’s constitutional right to be bare-chested in the same place as a man. The suit seeks a ruling┬áthat Ocean City’s ordinance violates an equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, and the Declaration of Rights to the Maryland Constitution.

Chelsea Eline, an advocate for “top freedom” — the stance that women should be allowed to appear topless in public, like men are — filed the lawsuit, along with co-plaintiffs Rose MacGregor, Megan Bryant, Christine Coleman, and Angela Urban. Eline, MacGregor, and Bryant are Maryland residents, while Coleman is from Long Island, NY, and Urban is from Pittsburgh.

The debate has been raging since 2016, when Eline, using a pseudonym of Chelsea Covington, first questioned Ocean City’s laws on toplessness. The question was sent to the Worcester County state attorney, who sent a request for an opinion to the state attorney general.

But no ruling in the matter came down by last summer, so the Ocean City Beach Patrol issued a memo to instruct lifeguards on how to handle a potential toplessness complaint. That memo was soon posted to social media, where it went viral, causing a storm of phone calls to city officials.

Ocean City then issued a statement in early June that declared “Ocean City is not a topless beach, and will not become a topless beach.”

Town officials called an emergency meeting to pass an ordinance that stated “There is no constitutional right for an individual to appear in public nude or in a state of nudity.”

Later that month, Eline retained an attorney. The federal civil suit was filed in January.

The suit claims gender classification does not further government interest, but increases the idea that women are viewed as inherently sexual objects, according to the Daily Record.

“This lawsuit is about confirming the legal right of women to be bare-chested, in public, in the same places that men are permitted to be bare-chested, for purposes other than breastfeeding,” the lawsuit reads.