A couple went down to the courthouse in Charleston to get married Thursday morning. They left with drawn faces and tears welling in their eyes, their request denied.

Madeline Trilling and Olivia Hope Parris of West Ashley were among the six lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) couples who applied for marriage licenses in South Carolina this week as part of an effort to spark discussion of LGBT equality issues in South Carolina. At the probate court near Charleston’s Four Corners of Law, they requested an application for a license and got the expected result from the person working at the desk.

“We were very aware of the fact that she was going to say, ‘We don’t recognize your love in South Carolina,'” says Trilling, a law student at the Charleston School of Law. “It’s just another thing to have someone say that to you. It’s hard to hear.”

Two LGBT couples requested marriage licenses in Greenville County Probate Court on Wednesday and were similarly turned away. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, says the couples applying for licenses are participating in an effort to change federal laws such as the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that define marriage as being only between a man and a woman. Trilling agrees that the laws should be changed from the top down, rather than piecemeal in the states.

In South Carolina in particular, Trilling says, “In order to sway the public opinion to the point where they were willing to repeal the law and then pass a law to allow gay marriage, it would be a lifetime or more.”

According to the Human Rights Campaign, federal law provides 1,138 benefits, rights, and protections to married couples — none of which are provided to LGBT couples in states where one-man-one-woman is the law. The 1,138 items include Social Security benefits for widows, child tax credits, and exemption from the estate tax for property transferred to a surviving spouse.

“It’s very easy to sit back and watch these laws that directly discriminate against you,” says Trilling, who did most of the talking outside the courthouse Thursday morning. “But we’re able to draw attention to the issue.”

Trilling says that, although the state does not grant her the right to marry her partner of one and a half years, many neighbors and classmates have been accepting since the couple moved to Charleston from Asheville, N.C., in August. She recalls being nervous about coming out to one friend in particular whom she met at law school. “I was worried about her. She’s Republican and religious,” she says. But then one day, the classmate asked, “Is your girlfriend fine with how much you have to study?” Trilling says the acknowledgement lifted a weight off her shoulders.