The decision to commit yourself to a life partner in California is a serious one because of all the ramifications of such a choice. California recognizes conventional heterosexual marriages as well as civil unions, which parallel marriage in most circumstances.
Civil Unions provide the participants with all the same rights as married individuals in the California. This means community property and debts, support, and the owing of fiduciary duties to the other party. The definition of relationships really is a power reserved to the states under the 10th Amendment, so most federal involvement is not relevant, other than grandstanding to various sectors of the electorate. For example, states can determine who can exercise the driving privilege, who can be licensed for their professions, or who can qualify for marriage or a civil union.
Civil Unions were established to be akin to marriages as society developed. Civil Unions became almost identical, in a legal context to marriages with amendments made in 2005. The point here is that many of those who wanted civil unions also got the laws that deal with the dissolution of marriage, which means division of community property and pensions, sharing assets, spousal support, and the imposition of fiduciary duties on the parties, all no small task, even in a marriage. Civil Unions will have to suffice pending the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on Proposition 8.
The rub really comes under Federal law with such issues as tax exemptions and certain retirement and bereavement rights under Federal law. This is where an Executive Order could be signed without the fuss or muss of an irrelevant Constitutional Amendment which would raise the ire of those who feel that the institution of marriage is being threatened by allowing same sex marriages or civil unions. So what is all the attention about?
Conservatives would say that same sex marriages are an attack on the "institution of marriage," however this "institution" has been on the wane for many years with over half of marriages ending in a divorce or dissolution. Millions of children are run through the courts with custody battles and dependency courts resulting in the expenditure of millions of dollars in a system that cannot really handle issues for all of these children, rich and poor, alike.
The laws surrounding marriages also continue to be quite punishing as well as new situations and new twists are dealt with by the Courts of Appeal and California Supreme Court. Decisions have come out regarding Quit Claim Deeds, Fiduciary rights and duties, and issues arising out of the duty to be self supporting, which has affected women in long term marriages. The same can be said of civil unions and the eventuality of a same sex marriage. Marriage will always have its religious supporters but the reality may dictate otherwise. Gay parents have been found to be a positive for their children. Many children are abused in heterosexual homes. Domestic violence is rampant in heterosexual relationships.
The concept of committed relationships will continue to evolve in California as a frontrunner of American Culture, good or bad. President Obama's feelings on this issue has also evolved must to the disdain of conservatives and to the joy of the Gay and Lesbian Community. The real focus here is whether the Federal Government or politicians should be legislating morality when their own morals are taken to task.So, should we as a society really put this much effort into beating this issue into the ground as we did with abortion in the 1960's?