Nantucket Topless Beaches Bylaw Approved By Attorney General
Jason Graziadei •
Nantucket's bylaw to allow anyone to go topless on island beaches was approved on Tuesday by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.
While it had already been endorsed by island voters at Town Meeting back in May, it still required Healey's endorsement 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."
Read the full decision by clicking here
The bylaw was approved by island residents back in May on a 327 to 242 vote, and was among the most closely watched proposals during Nantucket’s 2022 Annual Town Meeting, garnering national attention.
It was spearheaded by island resident Dorothy Stover to seek “equality for all genders on all island beaches." On Tuesday, Stover said she was "excited and relieved" to hear the news that it had earned the approval of the Attorney General.
"Oh my gosh, that's amazing," Stover said. "My initial reaction is relief. We can now move forward and I know so many people are excited and have been waiting for this. It's such a relief and I'm so excited to share. I'm really excited for the town of Nantucket and other communities."
Stover, who was born and raised on the island and is the daughter of the late Town Clerk Catherine Flanagan Stover, is a sex educator who enjoys going to Nantucket’s unofficial nude beach near Miacomet.
Back in May, Stover spoke to open the debate, giving wide-ranging comments that even covered the history of bathing suits and male nipple stimulation, and urged voters to approve the new bylaw.
“I hope you vote for equality today,” Stover said. “Being topless is not being nude. It would not make them be nude, it would allow tops to be optional for anyone who wants to go topless.”
In Massachusetts, state law prohibits women from going topless on public beaches. Anyone who intentionally exposes their genitals, buttocks, or female breasts in a way that is intended to produce “alarm or shock” can be charged with open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior, which carries a potential penalty of up to three years in prison.
But Healey wrote on Tuesday that "Article 71 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."
Healey also addressed in her decision that the bylaw was written to apply to all beaches - both public and private.
"Based on this language in Section 66-1, we construe the by-law to apply to private beaches to the extent owners of private beaches give 'express or implied consent to the use of their private property for any lawful purpose thereon'," Healey wrote.
The Nantucket Select Board is set to discuss the ramifications of Healey's decision on Wednesday.