Two Christians, who claim that they were fired because they wouldn’t work with gay couples, have lost their anti-discrimination case at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg.

Lillian Ladele and Gary McFarlane both refused to work with same-sex couples because of their Christian faith.

They were subsequently fired and say it was an act of discrimination.

Ms Ladele was a marriage registrar for London’s Islington Borough Council but refused to conduct civil partnerships.

Mr McFarlane, from Bristol, was a relationship counsellor who was sacked in 2008 after saying he refused to give sex therapy to gay couples.

He now plans to appeal the ECHR decision.

The Christian Institute said it was “disappointed” by the ruling, adding that it showed Christians with traditional beliefs about marriage were “at risk of being left out in the cold”.

However, equality groups have welcomed the verdict.

Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill said: ‘Today’s judgement rightly confirms that it’s completely unacceptable in 2013 for public servants to pick and choose who they want to serve on the basis of sexual orientation.

“Gay people contribute over £40bn to the cost of public services in this country. They’re entitled to nothing less than equal treatment from those services, even from public servants who don’t happen to like gay people.”

Labour MEP Michael Cashman, who is also co-president of the LGBT Intergroup, added: “British law rightly protect LGBT people from discrimination, and there is no exemption for religious believers. Religion and belief are deeply private and personal, and should never be used to diminish the rights of others.”

The ruling may be appealed within three months.

British Humanist Association Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: “These cases have been repeatedly lost in court after court and have wasted an enormous amount of time just as they have generated a huge amount of unnecessarily divisive feeling amongst the public.

“The victim narrative that lies behind them, whipped up by the political Christian lobby groups that organise them and the socially conservative media that report them, has no basis in reality.”

Mr Copson added: “The widespread misreporting of these cases under the guise of ‘Christian persecution’ when they are anything but has undermined the chance of the public to get a really clear understanding of what the issues engaged by these cases really are.”