THIS is the best of times for our fellow citizens who happen not to be heterosexual, with a series of developments in these islands and across the continent occurring at breakneck pace.

The world may be a miserable place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in much of Africa, the Arab world, parts of Eastern Europe and elsewhere, including some states within the Land of the Free, but just consider some of the myriad societal changes in this country.

In recent or coming days, in no particular order, we have seen a slew of developments testify to us becoming a significantly more tolerant society. Last weekend the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland voted in favour of allowing the appointment of gay ministers in civil partnerships. Today commissioners will be invited to do the same for those who have exercised the right to same-sex marriage, which will be a closer vote.

This month saw an astounding 56 SNP MPs returned to Westminster. Seven have self-identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual, a percentage of 12 per cent of the group, more than double the rising rate in Conservative and Labour ranks, taking the total of those "out" at Westminster to just under five per cent, approaching the estimated proportion in society as a whole.

Six of those seven were photographed urging a Yes vote in tomorrow's referendum on the issue of marriage equality in Ireland. The UK's youngest ever MP, Mhairi Black of Paisley and Renfrewshire South, was asked about the decision to come out. "I've never been in," she replied, before returning to finish her university finals.

Last weekend also saw the prime minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Battel, marry his male partner, a first in the EU but not a world first as Icelandic premier Johanna Sigurdsdottir had already married her female partner.

The final piece in the jigsaw of gay equality news this week came when Colin and Karen McArthur's bakery business in Antrim was found by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland to have been guilty of political and sexual orientation discrimination by refusing to bake a cake bearing the phrase "Support Gay Marriage".

The requested cake also carried the image of the Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie, whose sexual orientation I confess had passed me by, and the logo of local campaigning group QueerSpace, of which I have no knowledge.

Had the phrase on the requested cake been "Up the Provies" or "Tiocfaidh ar la" it would have been more overtly political, so would such a case have been raised in the heart of East Belfast? Or a Union Flag cake requested up the Andersonstown Road?

I simply don't know. But as a supporter of the rights of my non-straight fellow citizens I am a little ambivalent about the gay cake story, disliking the notion of seeking out offence when you could just as easily give your custom to a more welcoming business, whether a baker or a bed and breakfast establishment.

Many gays would prefer not picking such a fight in favour of simply utilising the "pink pound" to reward friendly businesses and withdraw their custom from the socially conservative, but anti-discrimination legislation is there for sound reasons and has to be be enforced.

It is, of course, hilarious, when the satirical website the Daily Mash jokes: "Gay cake converted entire tray of bread rolls to homosexuality." And I have no great sympathy with the fundamentalist evangelical views of the McArthur family, but in politics as in wider campaigning it probably doesn't do to create martyrs, especially clean-cut ones backed by people with deep pockets.

It is better, in my view, to dwell on how far we have come in such a short time. Holyrood has a Tory leader and a Green co-convener who are happy in their non-straight skins and an atmosphere in which most, although by no means all, politicians feel able to go public with their sexuality.

Having seven declared non-heterosexual candidates does not appear to have caused any grief to the SNP's Westminster campaign, which has been noted in the south as a further example of the progressive nature of the Scottish body politic.

To be clear, UK politics has been a miserable place for LGBTI politicians for most of Westminster's existence, with many remaining in the closet rather than risking public exposure. Homsexuality was still illegal in England and Wales until 1967, in Scotland until 1981 and in Northern Ireland until 1982.

One newspaper article this week cited a hair-raising list of senior 20th century politicians who, whether behind "beard" marriages or apparent sexual abstinence, were homosexual but were required to remain firmly in the closet.

Labour's brave outlier Chris Smith, the Islington MP who spent his teens in Edinburgh, felt able to come out in 1984 because he saw social norms changing, although his party colleague Angela Eagle took another 13 years to come out. Mr Smith became the UK's first gay cabinet minister to bring his partner to official events.

The norms did change, but painfully slowly, to the extent that 14 years after he came out his party colleague Peter Mandelson was inadvertently outed by former Tory MP Matthew Parris in a television interview. In the intervening period we had the whole ghastly hangover of the eighties and nineties, dating back to the Liberals' vile by-election campaign against Peter Tatchell, when gay MPs lived in fear of forcible "outing" and of the attentions of a homophobic tabloid press.

I am uneasy about generalising but politics, obviously a branch of the thespian arts and like its sister profession espionage, appears over the years to have attracted a full share of gay men and women. That they are now able to be comfortable in their own skins has to be a good thing, and someone who says "I was never in" is unlikely to face the prospect of blackmail.

A Europe-wide survey this month described Scotland as the most advanced nation in terms of LGBTI rights, ahead of the rest of the UK, Belgium, Malta, and Sweden. Laws in Northern Ireland dragged down the record of the rest of the UK. At the bottom of the league were Azerbaijan, Russia, Armenia, Ukraine and Monaco.

While this is all good, the Equality Network in Scotland cautions against complacency, pointing to the distinction between legal rights and the everyday experience of prejudice and discrimination in our playgrounds and workplaces.

All the polling evidence before Holyrood legislated to allow same-sex marriage pointed to big shifts in public opinion, noting a trend for middle-aged parents to have their opinions swayed by their more liberal sons and daughters. In past generations the transmission of values was strictly one way, downwards, but there was evidence of that changing.

These snapshots from the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey also showed that Catholics in Scotland had become the most socially liberal religious group in our society, more open to the concept of equal marriage than their Kirk counterparts.

Will this prevail in Ireland tomorrow? Probably. The Catholic Church's moral authority was damaged by child abuse cover-ups and brutality in children's homes, to the extent that it can no longer dragoon support through pulpit messages. The emerald isle is becoming less of a theocracy, north or south, as they follow their Celtic cousins.