Circumcision Ban Isn't "Only in San Francisco" After All
|S.F. isn't the only city that wants to cut circumcision from its laws|
The city isn't the only one looking to criminalize male circumcision. This national effort to ban the "mutilation" of foreskins has made a stop in Santa Monica. The Male Genital Mutilation, a national group (the name says it all), has proposed its own ballot measure in Santa Monica that would ban male circumcision under the age of 18.
"The measure specifies that the belief of any person that the circumcision is required by 'custom or ritual' could not be considered in applying the law," according to the draft language.
The frightening thing is that this group is not singling out Santa Monica. MGM has long been lobbying state and federal lawmakers to enact a ban on male circumcision -- it hadn't gained traction until now. In January, the group submitted proposals to more than 2,800 lawmakers across the country, saying the procedure is "medically unnecessary" and robs males of their right to keep their penises intact.
"Boys are born with a foreskin for a reason," says MGM president Matthew Hess, who wrote San Francisco's ballot language. "The foreskin functions like an eyelid, providing protection and keeping the penis moist and sensitive."
And the sexual pleasure argument doesn't hold up. While those who are opposed to a circumcision ban argue that a circumcised penis adds to sexual pleasure, MGM says that the foreskin contains thousands of nerve endings and acts as a natural lubricant during sexual activity.
Nobody really thought San Francisco's measure would make it to the ballot until a few weeks ago, when proponents turned over an "excess" of signatures. Soon after, it qualified for the November ballot. All along, Jewish leaders and lawyers have stated such a ban is unconstitutional, claiming it is violating freedom of religion. The Jewish community has vowed to fight the measure, which would prohibit the 3,000-year-old practice.
Hess pointed out that federal law protects girls from genital mutilation, so why not boys? He plans to take his efforts all the way to the federal government until it becomes law.
"You cannot in any way cut the genitals of girls, not even a drop of blood, in the name of religion," Hess says. "So why is this exception being made for the foreskin? It's a double standard."
Abby Porth, associate director with the Jewish Community Relations Council, told SF Weekly today that circumcision is hardly genital mutilation. In fact, the practice is just the opposite, she said. It has significant health benefits, including reduction in HIV risk and penile cancer. The San Francisco Jewish community has already created a broad coalition, which includes medical authorities, to fight this November ballot measure.
MGM was formed in 2003, strictly to prevent baby boys from having their genitals "mutilated." Admittedly, it has had a slow start, yet Hess says that the San Francisco ballot measure has helped the group gain momentum across the country. Hess says last year, cities across 46 states approached him, asking him to write similar ballot language to San Francisco's. The issue even made it to the Massachusetts Legislature for a public hearing, only to be killed at the committee level.
"If it passes [in San Francisco], it will help our chances everywhere," Hess tells SF Weekly. "And even if it doesn't pass, we've raised awareness."