SAN FRANCISCO — Never before have so few fought for the right of so many to wear so little.
Well, it wasn't exactly like Churchill and the Battle of Britain, but the handful of activists opposing a nudity ban in what's arguably the nation's most liberal and libertine city gave it their all and then some.
In the end, the specter of unchecked bareness was too much even for a city where usually anything goes, and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 6-5 on Tuesday to enact a public nudity ban.
Moments later, boos and a sudden shedding of clothes by aggrieved audience members led to a hastily called recess as naked people loudly and lustily voiced their displeasure.
Gerhardt Clarke, 55, of Oakland wore only a white stocking cap, white socks and white underwear briefs as he shouted about recalling Supervisor Scott Wiener, the ban's author.
Clarke said he's confident he'll be able to keep on going starkers. Activists last week filed a pre-emptive lawsuit to block the city from implementing the ordinance.
Others more soberly assessed what the ban says about a city that prides itself on openness.
"We used to say two men kissing was bad for children to see, but now we've learned better," Taylor Whitfield, 25, clothed, said in the corridor outside. "This is a step backward."
The supervisors a year ago passed an ordinance requiring nude people to put something between their bare behinds and seats in public places; it also banned nudity in restaurants.
But the outcry from city residents and business owners continued, and so Wiener introduced the ordinance to ban exposure of rear ends and genitals on public streets, sidewalks and transit. Naked breasts are still OK, as is nudity for children younger than 5 or at city-permitted parades, fairs and festivals such as the Pride parade and Bay to Breakers race.
A federal judge will decide in January whether to halt the law's Feb. 1 implementation. It probably will be a tough fight for the plaintiffs: The U.S. Supreme Court has held that public nudity bans don't necessarily violate the constitutional right to free speech.