Obama signs law requiring men’s bathrooms to install baby changing stations
Turns out some scraps of humanity can still be salvaged from the giant dumpster fire that is American politics. President Barack Obama signed a bill to install baby changing stations in men’s bathrooms Friday, because, you know, men have babies too. It’s no longer all on moms to change their babies or on dads to wait until they get home to switch out a poopy diaper for a clean one. Now they can participate in an important part of the childcare process when they’re out and about by changing those diapers themselves. Well, sort of.
The Bathrooms Accessible in Every Situation Act, or the BABIES Act for short, requires baby changing stations to be installed in both men’s and women’s bathrooms in all publicly accessible federal buildings. Introduced by Rhode Island Representative David Cicilline in April, the bill passed into law this summer with support from Republicans as well as Democrats and surprisingly little opposition.
This legislation follows increasing calls from high-profile dads for the provision of baby changing stations in men’s bathrooms. Most notable among these was Ashton Kutcher’s 2015 petition to get Target and Costco on board, which stated that men needed access to changing stations because, “Dads, like myself, want to participate equally in the child care process and our society should support that.” As New York State Senator Brad Hoylman has pointed out, this is especially important for single fathers and same-sex male couples, who can’t get their babies changed at all if changing stations are only in women’s bathrooms.
While the BABIES Act is a really important step, let’s not make the mistake of thinking its work is done. For one thing, the measures it puts in place have yet to be expanded to the premises of private organizations or companies. And that part about bathrooms in federal government buildings isn’t a blanket mandate for all bathrooms; if a federal building already has a baby changing station in a male-accessible bathroom (such as a unisex single-stall bathroom), it doesn’t need to install another changing station in the men’s bathrooms. The mandate also doesn’t apply to bathrooms that aren’t accessible to the public, so men’s bathrooms in federal buildings might still be without changing stations if they’re employees-only.
Although this legislation will need to be built upon to a considerable degree, it’s nevertheless a key move toward recognizing men’s childcare responsibilities, as well as the fact that parents don’t always come in sets of heterosexual couples. At a time when homophobia, sexism, and gender inequality are rampant in politics, the foundation laid by the BABIES Act is greatly needed.