Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of Italy's Forza Italia political party, has spoken out in favor of gay rights.

“The [fight] for civil rights for homosexuals is a fight that in a truly modern and democratic country should be everyone's responsibility,” Berlusconi said in a statement published last week in La Repubblica.

“As a liberal, I believe that through a broad and in-depth debate we can reach a reasonable objective for justice and civilization,” he added.

The 77-year-old Berlusconi made the statement just hours after his girlfriend Francesca Pascale joined Arcigay, Italy's largest LGBT rights advocate.

In 2010, Berlusconi said, “It's better to be fond of pretty girls than to be gay,” in the course of defending himself against accusations of involvement in juvenile prostitution.

Forza Italia is one of Italy's three major political parties and the largest opposed to marriage equality.

(Related: Italy to consider civil unions for gay couples.)