Circumcision - Gay Parade 2008 in San Francisco
Critics of male circumcision note several health risks. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Franco Folini/Flickr)

On Sunday, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 768, a bill that prevents local governments from enacting laws that ban male circumcision. The Los Angeles Times reports that AB 768 is one of a number of bills Brown signed this weekend. Other notable pieces of signed legislation include a bill that creates stiffer penalties for those who sell synthetic cannabis.

Male circumcision and religious freedom

California circumcision law AB 768, which was sponsored by state Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake), was designed to “protect parental rights and liberties.” It was intended as a response to a San Francisco ballot measure that would have forbade any cutting of the foreskin that was not considered medically necessary. That measure was stricken from the ballot by a Superior Court judge in June, in the wake of vehement protests from religious groups and doctors. A similar measure almost made the ballot in Santa Monica.

Opponents of AB 768 have argued that male circumcision is a medically unnecessary surgery that can lead to sexual dysfunction and other health problems later in life. On the other end of the legal tug of war are those who view circumcision as an important religious practice for Jews and Muslims. Some believe the procedure reduces the risk of cancer and sexually transmitted diseases.

Circumcision is not specifically unlawful in the United States, although critics maintain that the circumcision of a child violates laws intended to protect the physical well-being of children. Male circumcision is not uncommon in the U.S.. It is also not considered to be as taboo as female circumcision, which is much more common in Africa. According to the World Health Organization, 92 million girls from 10 years old and above have undergone female circumcision, which is also referred to as female genital mutilation.

Circumcision: A slice of history

The Hebrew Bible orders the Jewish faithful to circumcise male children on the eighth day of life, and to circumcise male slaves (Genesis 17:11-12). The ancient Greeks notably disapproved of the practice, as did ancient Rome. Per Wikipedia, the volume Historia Augusta notes that Roman emperor Hadrian (117 CE to 138 CE) banned circumcision in the empire. Some scholars believe that this law was a result of the Jewish Bar Kokhba revolt of 132 CE, although other scholars dispute this origin of the decree.

Roman emperor Antoninus Pius (138 CE to 161 CE) allowed Jews to circumcise male sons, but forbade the circumcision of non-Jews within the empire, slaves or otherwise.

Synthetic cannabis sale penalty stiffer than the real thing

Brown also signed a bill that increased the fine for those caught selling synthetic cannabis in California. Under the new law, anyone who sells synthetic cannabis may be fined $1,000 and face up to six months in jail. By comparison, selling less than 28 ounces of marijuana in California carries no jail time and a maximum fine of $100.

Christopher Hitchens on circumcision

Sources

Associated Press: http://bit.ly/pNgNT6

California AB 768: http://1.usa.gov/nT5MTw

Circumcision and law Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circumcision_and_law

Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-brown-bills-20111003,0,4385092.story

World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/

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