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AG Healey clears way for Nantucket’s topless beach bylaw to take effect

Attorney General Maura Healey's office has approved a bylaw that allows anyone to go topless on any public or private beach on Nantucket.

Island voters approved the bylaw during a Town Meeting held in May. The citizen petition offered by Dorothy Stover, formally labeled "Gender Equality On Beaches" and proposed as Article 71, passed by a vote of 327 to 242.

"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," a determination released by Healey's office late Tuesday said. "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."

The determination, addressed to Town Clerk Nancy Holmes, said the AG's office received "numerous communications" from citizens raising challenges to Article 71 based on policy grounds, and said "while we cannot base our decision on the policy arguments they raise, the letters have helped inform our understanding of the issue and its importance to the Town. We emphasize that our approval in no way implies any agreement or disagreement with any policy views that may have led to the passage of the by-law."

In early August, while Healey was running for governor, the attorney general moved for an additional 90 days to review the bylaw, citing a "need for time to further discuss the proposed by-law's consistency with state law." At the time, a Healey aide said the office wanted time for public input because it was a "first-of-its kind bylaw proposal." The extension created a new Dec. 7 review deadline.

Healey's letter describes the proposal as a general bylaw and states such bylaws do not take effect unless the town has satisfied posting and publishing requirements. Once this statutory duty is fulfilled, the letter says, general bylaws and amendments take effect on the date the posting requirements are satisfied unless a later effective date is prescribed in the bylaw.

The town's Town Meeting website says the Select Board recommended a phased implementation of the bylaw, and notes the measure "is specific to beaches, not beach parking lots or concession areas or playgrounds that are separated from a beach by a walkway or dunes or a boardwalk or some other visible separation."

Rep. Dylan Fernandes of Falmouth, who represents Nantucket, included a beach umbrella emoji in his tweet about the ruling.

"Nantucket beaches have been officially approved to allow both men AND women to go topless — a win for gender equity (& tan lines)," Fernandes wrote.

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