The Kentucky governor has hired a private law firm to appeal a ruling that found the state must begin to recognise same-sex marriages, after the Attorney General declined to contest it.

Last month, US District judge John G Heyburn instructed the state to immediately start recognising same-sex marriages from other states.

Attorney General Jack Conway declined to appeal the ruling on behalf of the state last week, saying that “Judge Heyburn got it right”.

Just minutes after Conway’s statement, governor Steve Beshear had said he intended to fight the ruling himself.

Today, Beshear announced he has appointed top private legal firm VanAntwerp, Monge, Jones, Edwards & McCann to the case, in what Associated Press report is a $100,000 (£60,000) contract.

Unless a federal appeals court agrees to halt the ruling, the state will have no choice but to begin to recognise same-sex marriages from other states.

If Beshear cannot get a decision to halt the ruling, Kentucky must enact the changes by March 20.

17 US states and DC currently allow same-sex marriage, while decisions striking down bans in four states are currently stayed, pending appeal.