Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has signalled his support for the gay rights movement, reversing his previous stance.

Berlusconi, who has always previously opposed extending rights to same-sex couples, declared today that it is “everyone’s responsibility” to fight for gay rights.

He said in March 2011 that his government would “never” grant adoption or marriage rights to gays.

He had also attracted ire previously while defending his private life, when he had said: “If I happen to look pretty girls in the face now and then, well then, it’s better to be a fan of pretty women than to be gay.”

Today, in a column, he proclaimed: “The fight for civil rights for homosexuals is a fight that in a truly modern and democratic country should be everyone’s responsibility.

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

The move comes after the politician’s current girlfriend Francesca Pascale, and Vittorio Feltri – who runs a newspaper owned by Berlusconi – both joined the gay rights group Arcigay.

Feltri said: “We are for freedom, without discrimination, convinced that it is necessary to overcome prejudice that generates misunderstandings, triteness and tedious and stupid insults.”

Arcigay President Flavio Romani said: “We are Pleased to welcome Vittorio Feltri and Francesca Pascale among our members.”

The former Prime Minister is currently serving a sentence for tax fraud, and is appealing his conviction for paying for sex with an under-age prostitute.

Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced earlier this month that the Senate will debate a same-sex civil unions bill in September.

New Centre Right party leader Angelino Alfano said earlier this year that his party would leave the Grand Coalition government if “gay marriage” was introduced, but he is yet to react to the announcement.