Oh Lordy, here we go, I thought, that bigotry case.

A BBC report had just come on about Peter and Hazelmary Bull, the B&B-owning couple in Cornwall who turned a gay couple away. The Bulls had just lost their Supreme Court appeal against being found guilty of discrimination and the reporter was talking to them outside court. I got ready to roll my eyes. I braced myself for what I expected to be their thinly disguised homophobic views. How many cases must we have, I wondered, before people running hotels and guesthouses understand they can't discriminate like this? So it came as a bit of a surprise to find myself, not sneering, but feeling rather sorry for this ageing couple who had found that their faith in the Bible put them drastically at odds with equality laws. "Bigot" was entirely the wrong word.

The case began in 2008 when a gay couple from Bristol in a civil partnership, Steven Preddy and Martyn Hall, were refused a double room at Chymorvah House in Marazion in Cornwall by the Bulls, who said that, as Christians, they believed only married couples should sleep together. Preddy and Hall could not marry, of course, because they are gay and currently the law does not allow it, but being in a civil partnership they should have been treated the same as if they were married. They took the Bulls to court where the B&B owners were found guilty of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and ordered to pay damages and the complainants' legal fees. After two appeals, that ruling still stands.

Were the courts wrong? Not at all: not only was the judgment correct in itself, but to rule in favour of the Bulls would have meant setting a dangerous legal precedent that could have been used to sanction discrimination. Even though much has changed in the past 10 years where the rights and experiences of LGBT people are concerned, anti-gay attitudes are still there, albeit in the shadows. A ruling like that would just embolden the bigots.

And yet I sat watching the Bulls and felt sympathy, not with their beliefs, but with their sense of bewilderment at finding themselves on the wrong side of the law. Here were not two head-banging zealots full of self-righteous anger about homosexuality, but a quietly spoken couple with a set of sincerely held religious beliefs and a straightforward interpretation of the Bible that went out of fashion with Dior's New Look. To doggedly pursue their case to the highest court - "we'd prefer to face the law of the land and get into trouble than face God and get castigated by him", said Peter with the greatest sincerity - must have taken courage. It was like watching two worlds colliding - the sceptical, confident, secular modern world where widely supported societal values are asserted by Supreme Court judges, and the increasingly weak and marginalised faith-based world of old in which a higher authority holds sway. It was obvious which would win.

In future, people who take on the running of B&Bs will know that they may not discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation, but existing B&B owners have had to change their ways and naturally it has been difficult for those who have had to accommodate people in their homes who do not fit in with their world view. The Bulls had been in the business 28 years, said Hazelmary, and when they first said only married couples could share double rooms, homosexuality never entered their thinking. Times have changed.

The couple have expressed a desire to find a "middle way" - well, there is no middle way. You can't have gay people being turned away from double rooms at B&Bs, end of story. It is a great shame, however, that it had to come to court. All that achieves is to polarise the debate as this case appears to have done, with the Christian Institute attacking "political correctness". How very depressing.

A gay friend of mine commented to me that if he had been visiting this B&B with his partner he would have respected the couple's views by asking for a twin room instead. Perhaps, but I certainly don't blame Preddy and Hall for going to court. It is just sad that when conflict breaks out between equality campaigners and religious believers, one side must always prevail and the other ends up feeling so crushed.