[JURIST] Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, president of the Vatican's health department, said Sunday that Italian proposals to give legal status to unmarried couples are a threat to traditional families. A "traditional" family is held by the Vatican to be a marital union between a man and a woman. Discussion on this issue began last week when Romano Prodi [Wikipedia backgrounder], the former Italian prime minister and head of the European Commission who is expected to challenge current Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi [official profile; BBC profile] in the 2006 general elections, said he favored conferring legal status on unmarried couples. Barragan expressed concern that such legislation could erode or compromise the vision of the family unit, arguing that the "traditional" family is good for society, and that ad-hoc laws could confuse people. Although Prodi said he favored legal rights for de-facto couples and made his comments to Italian gay rights association Arcigay [advocacy website], he did not specify whether he approved of legalizing same-sex unions [JURIST news archive]. Francesco Rutelli [CNN profile] of the Margherita party, proposed a contract between partners in a de-facto union that would be private but also part of Italy's civil code, specifically ruling out gay marriage in his proposal. Italian newspaper La Repubblica published a poll Saturday that found 64 percent of Italians are for granting legal rights to unmarried couples with 30 percent opposed. Of these, 31 percent favored extending these rights to homosexuals and 29 percent approved of same-sex marriage. AP has more. La Repubblica has local coverage.