Silvio Berlusconi is pushing for the legalization of civil unions between gays in Italy, but not same-sex marriage.

In Rome, where politicians are sensitive to Vatican policy, the leader of Italy's largest center-right party told reporters Thursday that allowing civil unions by gays would be the "right compromise" between freedom for all and "deep respect for Christian values and for families."

The Catholic Church says only a man and a woman can be married.

Berlusconi's fiancé, Francesca Pascale, recently told a radio interviewer that she favors the legalization of gay marriage and civil unions.

But the former Italian premier is holding up Germany as the model of his plan. Since 2001, Germany has allowed civil unions but not formal marriage for gay couples.

Berlusconi's lobbying for same-sex civil unions marked quite a change for him.

Four years ago, while shrugging off sex-scandals that dogged him, he said it's "better to be passionate about a beautiful girl than a gay." That comment led some to accuse him of being homophobic.