As suggested by our Beryl Lieff Benderly in the March/April edition of Miller-McCune magazine, "intactivists" — advocates working to make male circumcision illegal — have succeeded in getting a public vote on banning the procedure on San Francisco’s November ballot.
The plebiscite was penned by a San Diego-based nonprofit, MGMbill.org, and makes “genital cutting” of male minors a misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $1,000 or a year in jail. Given that circumcision is required by both Jewish and Islamic traditions, the ordinance does not make an exception for “custom or ritual.” (MGM does point to small movements in both faith traditions to that seek to end the practice.)
MGM and various proposed laws and ordinances it has crafted treats the cutting of the foreskin as a form of male genital mutilation — hence the MGM in the title — akin to clitoral circumcision, a practice seen in parts of Africa and Asia but widely condemned outside of it as a violation of human rights and an unnecessary health risk. It's likely a savvy move to conflate the two. In 1994 at the Third International Symposium on Circumcision, Palestinian legal scholar Sami A. Aldeeb wrote, "Contrary to female circumcision, male circumcision does not really interest anyone. The debate on the topic is still taboo." No more.
In her piece, Benderly took a stand against any ban, arguing that male circumcision is a potent weapon in preventing the spread of HIV. Citing studies conducted in AIDS-ravaged Africa, she writes: “Any injection offering a 60 percent reduction in the risk of contracting this plague would be received as a miracle in the HIV-ravaged regions of the world — and probably as a Nobel Prize-worthy triumph in the scientific community. Despite all these advantages, of course, some people do not think circumcision appropriate for themselves or their sons.”
How well the San Francisco ballot measure will do remains an open question. As the San Francisco Chronicle cheekily noted, “petitioners cleared the cut-off point by inches,” gaining 7,743 signatures of the 7,168 needed.