Police in Laconia and neighboring Gilford said they will enforce their ordinances prohibiting public nudity — including the display of female breasts — following last week’s Supreme Court ruling that upheld Laconia’s anti-nudity ordinance.
Meanwhile, a Chicago company announced it will offer New Hampshire residents a 10 percent discount on its $35 flesh-colored bikini tops, which include a painted nipple. TaTa Tops said it made the offer in light of Friday’s New Hampshire Supreme Court decision.
The decision upholds the Laconia ordinance, which prohibits the exposure of a fully unclad female breast. Activists challenged the law after three women were arrested during a “Free the Nipple” protest at Weirs Beach in 2016.
“We believe New Hampshire’s court erred in this ruling and that women deserve to have the same legal rights and protections as men,” said Linze Rice, owner of TaTa Tops, in an email.
In a divided ruling, the Supreme Court noted that other courts have found that government can take steps to uphold moral sensibilities of a community. The majority ruled that the ordinance does not discriminate against women, noting the unique ways that men and women differ when it comes to nudity.
Two Supreme Court judges dissented, saying the ordinance violates the state’s Equal Rights Amendment.
Authorities in Laconia and Gilford said their ordinances had not been on hold while the 2016 Laconia case made its way through the courts. They said the laws were rarely violated.
“We’ll continue to enforce it, just like we did previously,” said Laconia Police Capt. Allan Graton.
He stressed that the ordinance applies when any part of the nipple is exposed. The penalty is a $250 fine for a first offense.
During the annual Motorcycle Week, Graton said, some women walk around with masking tape covering their nipples and don’t run afoul of the law.
Graton said something like the bikini top that Rice sells would not violate the law. “I’m sure our officers would take notice,” he said. “But if the nipple were covered, it would not violate the law.”
The ordinance in Laconia applies to any public place, including streets, beaches, playgrounds, any business such as a mall or restaurant that is open to the public and any outdoor location that is visible to the public.
In Gilford, the ordinance is more narrow, covering only the Gilford Town Beach. It carries a $25 fine.
In 2015, a district court judge threw out a violation brought by the town, ruling that state law did not authorize an ordinance that banned nudity.
In its Laconia ruling, the Supreme Court rejected that argument.
“We think the District Court judge was flat out wrong,” said Gilford Town Administrator Scott Dunn.
Dunn said the 2015 citation was the only one he knew of. Other instances of nudity on the town beach are handled diplomatically; police ask people to cover up, and they do, he said.
When people are nude or sunbathe topless, he said, the town receives complaints from beachgoers and ask that the ordinance be enforced.