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Circumcision ban removed from ballot

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

by Heather Cassell

Saying that the state regulates medical procedures, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Loretta Giorgi struck the controversial anti-circumcision proposition from the November ballot last week, ordering the head of the city’s Department of Elections to remove it.

The proposition, which qualified for the ballot in May, sought to criminalize anyone practicing circumcision on boys under the age of 18 within San Francisco. Violations would result in a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $1,000 or imprisonment in county jail for up to one year, or both.

The proposition allowed for a well-defined medical exclusion, but not a religious exception.

A coalition of Jewish and Muslim groups filed suit in June, seeking to remove the proposition from the ballot. A hearing was held on the matter last week, but the judge had already issued a tentative ruling that she intended to remove the proposition.

State trumps city

Inside the courtroom, it was standing room only as opponents and proponents of the anti-circumcision measure listened to the arguments made by attorney Michael J. Kinane, representing proponent Lloyd Schofield, and Michael Jacobs, a partner at Morrison and Foerster who took the case pro bono on behalf of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Muslim families, and medical professionals.

Kinane argued that California and the U.S. hasn’t “pre-empted” or addressed the issue of male circumcision as it has for girls. “The United States has stepped into the sphere as to the female, they have not in an equal protection sense stepped in as to males,” he said.

Jacobs argued that aside from the state’s pre-empting the proposed ballot measure it was “narrow and dangerous” from health care professionals’ perspectives and that “it would require a rather dramatic rewriting.”

Deputy City Attorney Mollie Lee simply agreed with Girogi’s tentative ruling.

Girogi agreed with Jacobs and Lee that the state pre-empted the ballot measure in regards to medical practitioners and that the medical and religious aspects of the measure couldn’t be severed from each other.

“I’m going to take your argument to heart,” Girogi told Kinane, “however, again, I think it reinforced my original rule.”

Proponents of the ballot measure vowed to not give up their fight.

“This issue is not ending, whether it’s us or other people, we will not stop until all men are protected from this damaging harmful surgery,” said Schofield. He worked on the proposition with Richard Kurylo, who “envisioned” the measure. Kurylo, a gay man, stood outside the Superior Court with Schofield and an estimated 25 protesters after Girogi’s decision.

“I’m really sad and upset,” said Sean-Michael Rau, 25, a queer man and a member of Bay Area Intactivist, as he stood with other protesters outside the court. “I wish that we could have had a chance to exercise our democratic right to vote, but this is not the end.”

It is unclear if anti-circumcision proponents will take the battle to the state and federal level.

State lawmakers have also entered the debate as Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) authored a bill that calls for male circumcision to be regulated by the state. That legislation continues to move forward.

Opponents were pleased with the court’s ruling.

“We are very pleased with the judge’s ruling,” said Abby Michelson Porth, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council and the lead plaintiff of the lawsuit.

Porth, who was a bit shaken by a protester who yelled at her in the hallway outside of the courtroom, added, “Today the judge reaffirmed that this minor medical procedure called circumcision is within the state’s province to regulate.”


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