By Thom Senzee
Originally published on Advocate.com July 01 2014 2:48 PM ET
Taking nearly everyone by surprise, Italy's controversial former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has spoken out in support of gay rights, reports The Local, an English-language Italian news site.
“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, according to The Local's translation of comments the former prime minister made to Italian newspaper, 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."
Berlusconi is currently incarcerated, serving a sentence for tax fraud as he appeals a conviction surrounding his alleged abuse of power to help get a sex worker with whom he was close out of jail, notes The Local.
Berlusconi's new statements of support for gays stands in stark contrast to past remarks, where the former prime minister made a series of antigay gaffes.
In 2010, the then-embattled Italian prime minister defended his questionable penchant for befriending young women, saying, "It's better to be passionate about beautiful girls than gay."And in 2005, Berlusconi reportedly told members of the Italian press that "in Italy only communists and gays are sanctified," according to the Local.
The italian news outlet links Berlusconi's unexpectedly tolerant comments with Berlusconi's girlfriend's recent membership in Arcigay, and Italian LGBT organization. Berlusconi's girlfriend, Francesca Pascale, and journalist Vittorio Feltri, who works for the Berlusconi family-owned newspaper Il Giornale, signed up with Arcigay just hours before Berlusconi's latest comments, reports The Local.
The LGBT group's president was welcoming, but reserved in his comments about the Berlusconi affiliates joining his organization's membership.
“Pleased to welcome Vittorio Feltri and Francesca Pascale among our members," Flavio Romani, Arcigay’s president, told The Local. "[But] membership to Arcigay also involves commitments.”