Truth is stranger than fiction, and San Francisco’s truths are often strangest of all. A group of its citizens–call them the Foreskin Lobby if you like–has successfully petitioned to have a prohibition against circumcision of males under age eighteen placed on the City’s November ballot, from the Wall Street Journal article:
Supporters of the ban say male circumcision is a form of genital mutilation that is unnecessary, extremely painful and even dangerous. They say parents should not be able to force the decision on their young child.
“Parents are really guardians, and guardians have to do what’s in the best interest of the child. It’s his body. It’s his choice,” said Lloyd Schofield, the measure’s lead proponent and a longtime San Francisco resident, who said the cutting away of the foreskin from the penis is a more invasive medical procedure than many new parents or childless individuals realize.
But opponents say such claims are alarmingly misleading, and call the proposal a clear violation of constitutionally protected religious freedoms.
“For a city that’s renowned for being progressive and open-minded, to even have to consider such an intolerant proposition … it sets a dangerous precedent for all cities and states,” said Rabbi Gil Yosef Leeds of Berkeley. Rabbi Leeds is a certified “mohel,” the person who traditionally performs ritual circumcisions in the Jewish faith.
It might help to understand that San Francisco has a birth rate of nearly zero, which is expected to further decline, as the following chart, also from the Wall Street Journal, (December 2010) indicates:
Of course, a law such as this is purely symbolic, even if San Francisco had a population of young, fertile women dropping babies left and right. It would only apply within the city limits, and the city is rather limited geographically. All that would be necessary for a San Franciscan to get their child circumcised would be heading over the Bay Bridge to Oakland.
It is interesting that there is a group so concerned that it launched a petition drive to get a ban on the practice placed on the ballot. Presumably, since all petitioners necessarily had to be residents of San Francisco, very few of them had kids themselves.
There is an ages-old tension between state and family that is gathering immediacy. Over the years of economic development, the state (i.e., for the US, the federal government) has eroded a great many of the prerogatives of the family, including religious prerogatives, in the child-rearing realm, and this proposed San Francisco law, impotent as it would be, is just another marker along the way of parental authority being legislated to oblivion. At some not-too-distant point, people who choose to have kids will effectively be doing so for the benefit of the state and very little else. Perhaps this explains some of the incredible decline in the birth rate as seen over the last half-century or so. (The greater part of the decline is generally understood to be explained by economic and health factors: Parents don’t need kids to work the farm in industrialized countries, and they don’t need to have a half-dozen to ensure at least a couple survive to adulthood).
Male circumcision is something of a curious religious tradition of the ancient Hebrews, intended, if the biblical texts are true, to distinguish the Hebrew male from the non-Hebrew. That it is the disfigurement of a sexual organ means, even in the ancient days, that the mark was visible only when the genitalia was disrobed; during moments of intimacy, bathing and urinating. In other words, it wasn’t a mark, like a gang-banger’s tattoo, that was visible to all that wished to see. Christians more or less adopted the practice even after Paul vainly tried several times to explain it was immaterial to one’s salvation (See Romans 2:25 & 1st Corinthians 7:19, e.g.).
Whether or not circumcision is good for health is not clear. It is clear, given that roughly 80% of American males are circumcised, that it poses no significant danger to male health and sexuality. If such were so, it would surely have long ago been abandoned, suffering the same fate as so many other of the old Hebrew customs (e.g., the rules on female cleanliness during menstruation).
But it makes for something of a humorous diversion to imagine that some group of people believes so strongly it should be abolished (at least in their little enclave) that they proposed a law barring it. You couldn’t make this up if you tried.