CHRISTIAN bookshop owners and hoteliers in the south fear that they could be taken to court by homosexuals, fined and even sued for damages if regulations to be launched in Northern Ireland shortly are brought to the mainland early next year.

While many church and religious leaders feel that their Church will not be affected by the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs), the Lawyers Christian Fellowship (LCF) believes that they are mistaken.

Andrea Williams, public policy officer at the LCF, told the Daily Echo that the regulations will apply to the use of church buildings and halls, as well as having major implications on Christians in business.

The regulations will make it illegal for anyone providing "services" to discriminate against anyone simply on the basis of their sexuality, and if they do not offer and provide every customer with the same service, they could be fined between £200 and £1,000 for the first offence, and even taken to court and have damages awarded against them.

The lawyer says that under the regulations, schools will also have to "actively promote homosexual civil partnerships to children from primary school age, to the same degree that they teach the importance of marriage.

The regulations will also force a Christian family-run hotel or B&B to let out a double room to a transsexual couple, even if the family think it is in the best interests of their children to refuse, she claims.

Christian bookshop owners, who currently only stock books on heterosexual marriage, could also be forced to stock books promoting homosexual or transsexual practice, if challenged by members of the public.

The Daily Echo has discovered that most Christian owners of hotels and bookshops in the area have little idea of the impact the new regulations may have implications.

Virginia Ayling, owner of The Ark Christian Bookshop in Lymington, said: "Bookshop owners have not been informed about these regulations, of their implications.

"If I were forced to stock books against my conscience, or of those who normally come into this shop, I would be very worried."

Another owner, who has run a bookshop in Hampshire for more than 20 years, said: "What worries me is that should a gay couple demand I stock gay books, which out of conscience I would not, and they take me to court, quite frankly I do not have the money to pay the legal fees to defend myself, especially as I think on the basis of these regulations, I will have no defence.

"This is complete nonsense, and discriminates against my rights of belief and conscience."

Mike Young is the owner of the St Andrew's Hotel in Ventnor, on the Isle of Wight.

He said: "I know about it in principle, but not the details.

"I can't see it is a problem unless people are out to use the regulations against Christians and have it in their mindset to do so.

"This could be a licence to cause trouble, and surely the government must realise that.

"In one sense, a hotel is private property, and as such, an owner should be entitled to invite as his guests who he or she wants and to refuse who he or she wants, for whatever reason.

"These regulations provide for one particular pressure group to cause a problem because they have their particular rights enshrined in law.

"I hope common sense will prevail."

The LCF is advising Christians across the UK to write to their MPs, urging them to ask the government to add one clause to the regulations, which would protect the "long-cherished freedom of conscience in the UK".

The clause would read: "Nothing in these regulations shall force an individual to act against their conscience or strongly-held religious beliefs".

The government says that the regulations are necessary to ensure that people of all sexual orientation are offered the same services.