Derek Mackay, a senior Scottish Government minister, has publicly come out as gay after separating from his wife.

The 36-year-old, who had two young sons with his wife Jennifer, has been living apart from his family after he informed them several months ago.

Since the split, the SNP Chairman has now spoken publicly on the matter, and has appealed for his family’s privacy to be respected.

He said: “Having been aware myself for some time and having informed family and friends it is important for me to be clear publicly that I am gay.

“While my wife and I remain on very good terms we have separated.

“While I feel it is important to be open about this change in my personal circumstances I would ask that our privacy is respected while we support our family through this period.”

HeraldScotland reports that family members and close personal and political friends have all been “incredibly supportive,” according to a close source to the minister.

Parliamentary business minister and friend of Mr Mackay, Joe Fitzpatrick, said: “Derek has taken his time to think about this and he has decided that although this is his private life, it is important to let his constituents know that his circumstances have changed.

“His family has been his first priority throughout and I hope everyone else can respect that.

“Being gay in politics isn’t the news story it used to be and it’s a welcome sign in Scottish public life that whatever your sexuality, it’s your work that matters.”

Mr Mackay was elected to Holyrood in 2011, and became a minister following a mini-reshuffle later the same year.

In his role as local government and planning minister he has been involved in plans to reform the way councils operate.

He was also Scotland’s youngest councillor when he was first elected to the local authority in 1999, aged 21.

Before Mr Mackay, his friend Joe Fitzpatrick was also one of the few openly gay MSPs, and was listed as 27th on PinkNews.co.uk’s 50 most powerful LGBT people in British politics in 2009.

Others also include Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, Green Party MSP Patrick Harvie, and SNP member Jim Eadie, who has lodged a parliamentary motion recognising the “fantastic” campaign by those in favour of equal marriage.