Court upholds conviction of New Hampshire topless activists

'Free the Nipple' protesters take part in a demonstration in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire in 2015 (Reuters)

Washington (AFP) - The northeastern US state of New Hampshire's Supreme Court on Friday upheld the conviction of three women who went naked on a beach -- violating a local ordinance.

In May 2016, "Free the Nipple" activist Ginger Pierro decided to do some topless yoga on a beach in the city of Locania.

But that broke a local law against nudity in public places -- which specifically bans "the showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any part of the nipple."

Police, alerted by onlookers, arrested her.

Then, three days later, activists Kia Sinclair and Heidi Lilley decided to sunbathe topless on another beach in the town to protest Pierro's arrest.

The three women were found guilty and slapped with a $100 suspended fine.

They then appealed to have their conviction thrown out, arguing they were victims of gender discrimination.

But the Supreme Court did not agree. For the majority of the judges, the law "merely reflects the fact that men and women are not fungible with respect to the traditional understanding of what constitutes nudity."

The women's lawyer, Dan Hynes, said he was "disappointed" with the ruling -- and argued the court had "effectively condoned making it a crime to be female."

His clients now have their sights set on the US Supreme Court. Should the high court take the case, it could clarify a point of some confusion in the US.

Only some states formally forbid women from showing their breasts -- with others imposing restrictions, particularly on breastfeeding.