Last month, the Westboro Baptist Church announced a new target: Death Cab For Cutie singer-guitarist Ben Gibbard. Calling him a “pervert” and a “major fag-enabler,” the church called Gibbard out for supporting his sister, a lesbian, and wearying “God’s servants at the WBC with his hateful words and hard speeches.” (Because “hard” and “hate” are the first things that come to anyone’s mind in relation to Death Cab For Cutie.) Gibbard may have drawn the WBC’s ire for his recent work with Music For Marriage Equality, a Washington-based group that advocates for the passage of Ref. 74, which would make gay marriage legal in the state. The A.V. Club spoke with Gibbard about the WBC's planned demonstration at an upcoming Death Cab show in Kansas, free speech, and why he’s throwing his musical weight behind this issue.
The A.V. Club: What did you think when you found out about the protest?
Ben Gibbard: I long ago blocked all the people who would tweet me terrible homophobic things. I don’t need that negativity in my “@” mentions. I don’t know, I suppose a number of people will be at our shows with signs. The Westboro Baptist Church as an organization is a perfect example to use when you’re talking about the strengths of free speech. I abhor everything they’re doing, but they have the right to be doing it. As painful as it is to say, I’d rather live in a country where people can voice that kind of outrageousness. As long as they keep it legal, they can do what they choose.
AVC: It’s that same kind of freedom that allows you to speak out for gay marriage. Why is that issue so important to you?
BG: That’s something that touches home for me because my sister is gay and married to a wonderful woman. I, like many friends and family members of gay people in the country, would like to see them extended the same right our parents are, our friends are, or married couples are.
This truly is the civil rights issue of our generation. We all look back on when women finally got the right to vote and Civil Rights in the '60s... Can you imagine the time when women couldn’t vote and black people had to use different bathrooms? What the hell was that? Forty years from now, we’ll look back and say “How was it possible that gay people weren’t extended the same rights we are? What the hell was that?"
It’s an interesting time because, if you think back to the Civil Rights movement in the ‘60s, there were lots of people on the other side of that. I wonder if you asked them now about why they thought black people shouldn’t have had rights what their answers would be. There are people now who don’t think gay people should be extended the same rights we have and I wonder what they’ll think about themselves 30 or 40 years from now.
One of the reasons I wanted to get involved in this campaign in Washington State early is that we saw what happened in North Carolina. A lot of people in the country weren’t up on the campaign on a day-to-day basis and they only found out about what was going on there days before the vote. In a handful of days leading up to North Carolina, people quickly rallied to raise awareness and it was all in good faith, and it’s better to happen later than never, but because that all went down in the 11th hour, it was too late to register new voters in North Carolina. So we’re trying to raise awareness and funds and make what’s happening in Washington State national news now, not in November. Thirty-two states have brought gay marriage to a vote and it’s failed every time. Washington has the potential to be the first state to approve gay marriage by a popular vote. It we can do it in Washington, the dominoes can fall in other states around the country.
AVC: How do you think your role as a musician helps you aid the cause?
BG: It’s not so much me as a musician but more that I have a pretty large platform because I’m in a band that’s fairly popular. When there are things that are important to me, I’m in a position to raise awareness on a much larger level than Joe Schmoe on the street. I feel like I’d be wasting a good opportunity if I didn’t use this platform. This issue is unlike other political stances. It’s one thing to be like, “Yes, I support Barack Obama and you don’t and we can argue things back and forth.” That’s a very cut-and-dry issue. This issue, on the other hand, effectively boils down to whether or not you support civil rights. If the answer’s no, that’s incredibly unfortunate.
I don’t mean to stand on a soapbox and talk about having family who’s gay as some kind of badge meaning I can’t be homophobic. I don’t want to make my family an issue. Everybody knows someone who’s gay, lesbian, trans, whatever. These people are all around us. They’re our friends and family. This issue extends past a piece of paper that says you’re married. This is for people in hospice who aren’t allowed to be visited by, taken care of, or have directives written by people who have been with them for 20 years. It’s about life insurance and health insurance. These legal and logistic problems are issues that straight people take for granted all the time, and they’re not extended to gay people in this country. More than anything, that’s as much the issue as the actual right to marry.