Snyder Appointment Sparks Controversy

Gov. Rick Snyder has generated sizable controversy following his recent appointment of Bishop Ira Combs Jr. to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. Combs has been an outspoken critic of anti LGBT discrimination measures, leading many to question the Governor’s decision.

Combs is a prominent African American and founder and Pastor of the Greater Bible Way Temple church in Jackson, Michigan. Despite his advocacy of anti-discrimination measures pertaining to the black community, Combs has a track record of opposing anti LGBT discrimination. Maeve O’Brien of The Michigan Daily reports Combs has “outwardly opposed” the Jackson city ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. In addition to the ordinance, Combs protested Jackson High School’s creation of a Gay-Straight Alliance. Combs has also supported lawsuits challenging anti same-sex marriage discrimination laws.

With his new position on the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, Combs will join the seven other members tasked with investigating allegations of civil rights violations and advising the Governor on changes to anti-discrimination law. Combs will serve a four-year term on the Commission.

Combs has been quite vocal about where his focus will be as a member of the Commission. Bill Laitner of the Detroit Free Press reports Combs has claimed that the LGBT community is “not my focus because they’re not disadvantaged,” going as far as saying members of the LGBT community “are economically advantaged.” Combs has announced that his main goal, as of now, is to focus on women’s rights. Combs has stated that due to the recent MSU sexual-assault scandals, the state of Michigan needs to do a better job of cracking down on sexual misconduct.

As reported by Laitner, Combs has responded to the controversy stating, “I believe that my detractors are entitled to their views,” adding, “I think we need to have balance.” Combs believes, “Church members have a right to their belief system. I actually subscribe to Catholic views when it comes to family values.” Combs identifies as a Republican with “traditional marriage values.”

Despite his position, and religious background, Combs claims his views are not based on his religious convictions. As covered by Laitner, Combs spoke on the issue, saying, “It is inappropriate to discriminate against any person because of your religious views when they are operating in a secular, progressive environment.”

Many civil rights groups have spoken out against Snyder’s decision to appoint Combs. As Laitner reports, the Michigan based LGBT advocacy organization, Equality Michigan, stated that Combs’s anti LGBT history is “embarrassing” for Michigan: “ It should go without saying that someone so committed to depriving a group of Michiganders of their basic civil rights has no business on the Civil Rights Commission.” The ACLU also spoke out against Combs. Kary Moss, executive director of ACLU of Michigan, states, “At a time when our nation is so divided, the Governor’s appointment to the commission of someone who has blatantly opposed the rights of the LGBTQ community is a huge disappointment.”

Chelsea Lonsdale, Henry Ford College’s Sexuality and Gender Acceptance club adviser also commented on the issue. Lonsdale stated, ”Bishop Ira Combs, Jr.’s appointment to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission is especially concerning given the controversy last year regarding the commission’s task to consider LGBTQ+ protections in regard to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. Snyder has supported expansion of the act to include sexual orientation and gender identity, but the appointment of Bishop Combs is not in line with that platform. To give decision-making power to someone who has actively worked against bans on discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ community, or any marginalized group, is wrong.”

As Danielle Salisbury of MLive reports, Snyder defended the appointment, stating that he appoints people of various backgrounds to government positions. Snyder used his appointment of Stacie Clayton, an Independent, and Alma Wheeler, a Democrat, as examples of ideological diversity in his administration. However, State Representative, and Democratic floor leader for the state House, Christine Greig, questioned Snyder’s move, referencing Combs’ opposition to the Jackson city ordinance, saying, “The Jackson incident with the non-discrimination ordinance is pretty recent, but this has been a 20-year pattern with this man. I’m just really disappointed with Gov. Snyder. To put someone on this civil rights commission to investigate discrimination who has a history of discriminating just doesn’t make sense.”

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