A gay couple are suing a Catholic diocese for allegedly refusing to sell them a plot of land and a mansion, over priests’ fears that they would host same-sex wedding ceremonies on the property.

In July, James Fairbanks and Alain Beret, of Boston, Massachusetts, had made a $1m offer for Oakhurst, a 24-acre complex which included a 1920s mansion, accepted by the Catholic Diocese of Worcester.

The estate agent acting for the Catholic diocese had revealed to the couple that their purchase of the 44-room estate had fallen through on the anti-gay concerns of the priests, in an email accidentally forwarded on:

“Because of the potentiality of gay marriages there, something you shared with us yesterday, we are not interested in going forward with these buyers.”

James G Reardon Jr, the attorney acting on behalf of the diocese said:

“It wasn’t a case of discriminating against gay people. We didn’t even know they were gay.”

Mr Reardon said that there was no discrimination against the couple, but that the concern was over the possibility of same-sex wedding ceremonies being held on the site. The church would not be allowed to sell on a property for such a purpose.

He also said that the couple’s finances had fallen through, and that they had proposed a revised plan which included separating off parts of the land and properties, which, he said “made no economic sense to us.”

Sergio Carvajal, the attorney acting on behalf of the couple said the discrimination was clear:

“It is wrong and it is illegal,” he said, reported the Ledger Enquirer.

Mr Carvajal also said that “the email speaks for itself,” and said that it was clear that the diocese knew that the couple were gay.

The couple have reportedly converted another property into an events facility, and were hoping to do the same with this property.

The lawsuit filed today seeks unspecified damages.