Healey approves topless beaches bylaw on Nantucket

NANTUCKET, Mass. — Attorney General Maura Healey on Tuesday approved Nantucket’s bylaw allowing everyone to go topless on the island’s beaches.

Island voters had approved the measure in May, but Healey’s endorsement was required for it to become law.

“We approve the Town’s vote authorizing any person to go topless on any public or private beach in Nantucket because we discern no conflict between the vote and the Constitution or laws of the Commonwealth,” Healey wrote in her decision. “The Town has the authority to choose what activities it will allow on town beaches, and we must approve any by-law reflecting such choice unless the by-law poses a clear conflict with the Constitution or laws of the Commonwealth, which Article 71 does not.”

According to the Nantucket Currant, the Gender Equality on Beaches bylaw amendment passed 327-242 in May, and was among the most closely watched proposals during Nantucket’s 2022 Annual Town Meeting, garnering national attention.

The bylaw was proposed by seventh-generation Nantucket resident Dorothy Stover and reads in part: “In order to promote equality for all persons, any person shall be allowed to be topless on any public or private beach” in town.

Under state law, only men can go topless in public.

Healey wrote on Tuesday: “It has been suggested that the by-law may create a conflict with two state laws purporting to regulate conduct that can under certain circumstances involve the exposure of breasts: G.L. c. 272, § 16, which addresses open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior, and G.L. c. 272, § 53(a), which prohibits indecent exposure. But neither statute makes toplessness at a beach, without more, a violation of state law. Instead, for the exposure of breasts to violate § 16 or § 53(a), it would have to be accompanied by additional conduct.”

Nantucket’s bylaw, Healey wrote, “is but the most recent example of Nantucket deciding what is and what is not permissible on public and private beaches in the Town. Like all towns in Massachusetts, Nantucket has long held the authority to so decide, and has exercised it on numerous occasions.”

This story contains information from The Associated Press.

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