Massachusetts tattoo law is deemed unconstitutional

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 24 2000 8:51 a.m. MDT

BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts law banning tattooing except by physicians has been deemed unconstitutional by a judge who suggested the state would be better served by licensing and regulating the industry.

The tattoo ban dates to the 1960s and was challenged this year by Martha's Vineyard residents John R. Parkinson and Stephan A. Lanphear. Their lawsuit, filed in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union, claimed that marking the human body is a protected form of expression.

Superior Court Judge Barbara Rouse on Monday agreed.

"Tattooing is an ancient art form which has been practiced in virtually every culture," Rouse wrote. "Tattoos demonstrate commitment to political and personal beliefs."

Lanphear, a licensed tattoo artist in New York City, wants to open a studio on Martha's Vineyard. Parkinson, who has acquired several tattoos in other states, said he wants to get them at home without breaking the law.

Tattooing in Massachusetts had been punishable by up to a year in jail or a $300 fine. South Carolina and Oklahoma also treat tattooing as a crime.

A proposed bill lifting the Massachusetts ban was not enacted before this year's legislative session ended.

The state Health Department had opposed lifting the ban, citing concerns about the possible spread of the HIV and hepatitis viruses through contaminated needles.

The judge said health concerns could be addressed best by adopting licensing standards. She added that the ban had led to an underground industry, posing a greater risk.

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