Gay activists in Tennessee are preparing to challenge the state's laws limiting marriage to heterosexual couples.

At least four gay couples on Wednesday applied for marriage licenses in three of the state's most populous counties, Davidson, Wilson and Shelby, and were told that Tennessee law doesn't recognize such unions. (Video of one couple making their request is embedded on this page. Visit our video library for more videos.)

Speaking to reporters afterward, Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, said that applying for the licenses – and being denied – was a first step in preparing a challenge to the law.

“It's going to require a court challenge,” Sanders said. “What happened today was a piece of that. This gives the couples that apply for marriage licenses, but are refused, more standing if they wish to challenge the state constitutional marriage ban in court … This is one part of a multi-pronged strategy to overturn Tennessee's state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.”

A constitutional amendment defining marriage as a heterosexual union and strengthening existing statutes to the same effect was approved by an overwhelming majority (81%) of voters in 2006.

Sanders added that recent rulings in Ohio and Michigan gave him reasons to hope.

“Both Ohio and Michigan are in the 6th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, just like Tennessee,” he said. “So we may get good precedent in our circuit and we may have marriage equality sooner than we think.”