Editor’s note: This story was one of the top-read in 2019 when it was discovered that a seemingly archaic law was actually passed in 2010. The law is still in effect, but the attention to the topic did have an effect on neighboring Carolina Beach.
KURE BEACH — “Sun’s out, buns out” might be a summertime slogan — but in the beach town of Kure Beach that mindset could get you slapped with a misdemeanor. That’s because in the Town of Kure Beach, wearing a thong bathing suit (or similar attire) is a crime.
While it might seem like the law is a holdover from a time long since past, it has been less than a decade since the town adopted the ordinance. First passed in 2010, town code states: “Nudity, thong bathing suits or other similar attire is prohibited.”
What is the punishment for the crime? A first offense will cost you $25, while a second offense will go on your record as a misdemeanor.
So what is similar attire? Who gets to decide when bathing suits cross the line? These are questions that remain unanswered by the town.
Is the law legal?
Time and time again the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that the First Amendment protects freedom of expression, including what people can be told to wear (or not wear).
When it comes to showing some skin at the beach, the State of North Carolina’s Supreme Court actually addressed the issue in 1998 in the case of State v. Fly.
The court’s opinion on an indecent exposure case directly identified visitors to beaches wearing thongs as not in violation of indecent exposure laws.
“However, given the posture of this case, we think it wise to note our agreement with the conclusion of the majority below that buttocks are not private parts within the meaning of the statute. To hold that buttocks are private parts would make criminals of all North Carolinians who appear in public wearing “thong” or “g-string” bikinis or other such skimpy attire during our torrid summer months. Our beaches, lakes, and resort areas are often teeming with such scantily clad vacationers. We simply do not believe that our legislature sought to discourage a practice so commonly engaged in by so many of our people when it enacted N.C.G.S. § 14–190.9. To make such attire criminal by an overly expansive reading of the term “private parts” was not, we are convinced, the intent of our legislature,” according to the decision written by then Chief Justice Mitchell.
But according to one interpretation of another court case, towns can, in theory, ban thongs.
“The state supreme court in State v. Tenore, 280 N.C. 238 (1972), construed G.S. 14-190.9 as it was then written to allow cities and counties to enact ordinances that prohibited lewd conduct not banned by the state statute. The county ordinance challenged in Tenore was ruled preempted, however, since it banned conduct identical to that covered by the state statute. Thus, Tenore indicates that local governments could require people in public places to cover their buttocks,” according to a UNC School of Government post.
The town’s response
When asked about the law, Mayor of Kure Beach Craig Bloszinsky responded in an email and requested his response be printed in its entirety, it has only been edited for formatting. below.
“At Kure Beach we recognize that people have many choices on beaches, depending on rules for wardrobe, drinking, smoking, littering, tents, rentals, handicap wheelchairs and access, parking cost and more. Most beaches have a different combination of rules or ordinances. Certainly, I don’t believe that you think all of these are first amendment options? Kure Beach is not a beach of large motels and condominiums, it is by and large a family town with many local weekly rentals which are often rented by entire families. Our Police Officers enforce our ordinances in a respectful manner and we have had no citizen complaints on beach wardrobe. If the families that live and/or provide rentals in Kure Beach wish to change any ordinances we have a Council Process for that consideration. If a person’s priority is to wear or see the minimum swimsuit coverage on the beach, they have other beach choices,” he said.
When asked if it was the role of government to create laws dictating how people should dress, with the potential interpretation that the law is inherently biased against women, he did not respond.
Other members of the town’s leadership declined to answer Port City Daily’s questions and the Police Chief, who was also copied on the email, did not respond to the questions.
Port City Daily has reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina for their opinion on the law. The ACLU acknowledged the request and has sent it to their legal department for further review when a response is received Port City Daily will publish it