Responding to questions raised by a shopping center developer in Hagerstown, the Maryland attorney general has issued an advisory opinion that the state's equal rights amendment does not bar separate toilet facilities for men and women.

In an opinion riddled with bad puns but described by its authors as "legally sound," the attorney general's office said that the state constitution's prohibition against sex discrimination does not eliminate an individual's right to privacy. "Indeed the word 'privy' means 'private,' the opinion noted.

"It is our hope that this opinion will also flush away what has often been a scare argument against the passage of the federal Equal Rights Amendment," the final footnote to the four-page opinion noted.

The question was raised with the attorney's general's office by the Maryland environment health administration in response to communications from Golden Seal Builders Inc. of Hagerstown. The firm's representative said the company planned to build a shopping center in that community with only one restroom in each store.

According to an assistant attorney general, the firm's attorney wrote the Washington County health officer advising him that it appeared that the state equal rights amendment barred the separate restrooms required by the building code.

Such a contention "runs counter to a respond interpretation of the ERA, and we refuse to stand behind it," said the opinion.