What is it about conservatives anyway? Not only do they keep picking fights they cannot win, but they keep dragging the rest of us down with them.

You might say it started with the Civil War, and it is still going on as lawyers seek payment from the state of South Carolina for their work defending the right of a gay couple to marry against the political ambitions of state Attorney General Alan Wilson. Attorneys for Colleen Condon and Nichols Bleckley have asked a federal judge to order the AG to pay $152,710 for their time and service. As The Post and Courier explained, “Judges can order losing parties to pay their opponents’ legal fees, especially in civil rights cases, to ensure private citizens will challenge violations. So far, Wilson has lost his legal battle to uphold the state’s gay marriage ban at every step.”

Yep, at every step.

Wilson should have dropped the case and allowed same-sex marriages to go forward several months ago when the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Virginia’s gay marriage ban. The other state attorneys general in the 4th Circuit knew what the decision meant and dropped their opposition to gay marriage. Only in South Carolina, where the state motto is “Hell no,” did our attorney general continue the fight until Nov. 19, when federal District Judge Richard Gergel essentially ordered him to shut up and sit down.

Yes, it will cost the taxpayers some legal fees, but one suspects that Alan Wilson does not care. The important thing in his calculation is that he is seen as a hero and defender of the state’s honor. You will probably recognize this calculation. It is the same reckoning that makes heroes out of the leaders of the Confederacy — that disastrous misadventure that split the nation and cost the lives of some 600,000 Americans. Yes, South Carolinians like their heroes with a boot print on their butts.

It is a tragic tradition and part of the tragic Southern psyche that white Southerners keep picking fights they cannot win, keep defending indefensible “principles,” and keep calling their wounded pride “honor.” And, of course, they usually pay in money and blood for their terrible miscalculations.

How much money did this state spend fighting for years to keep its schools segregated until their suit was slapped down in a unanimous Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education? How much money did we throw away fighting the 1964 Civil Rights Act to the Supreme Court and the 1965 Voting Rights Act? How much did former Attorney General Charlie Condon waste trying to keep women out of The Citadel and keeping atheists and agnostics from holding public office? This state lost a monumental Supreme Court decision against the Obama administration over healthcare reform and is embroiled in another unlikely case over immigration reform.

The politicians like to say that these vainglorious legal battles cost taxpayers nothing because these cases are handled by in-house attorneys at the AG’s office. But how many lawyers does an attorney general have to keep in-house chasing rabbits and jousting with windmills to appease their political base? And doesn’t the dignity of the state and of the office mean anything? Do our politicians enjoy having their butts handed to them on a national stage? Or is this just the cost of getting elected in South Carolina.

And one more thing: This state consistently comes down not just on the wrong side of the law, but on the wrong side of history. We have used the law to punish and persecute black people, women, religious minorities, gays and lesbians, and anyone else that the white Christian majority was not comfortable with. Our bad laws and litigation were not battles of honor, as some like to claim. This was prejudice and superstition codified in law.

This state has been fighting in court since 1993 to defend a failed and shameful education funding system that makes it impossible for schools in some of the poorest (read: black) counties in the state to maintain their buildings or hire adequate teachers or staff. Earlier this year, the S.C. Supreme Court ruled that the state has failed to provide a minimally adequate education to children in its poorest communities.

Writing in the Dec. 13 P&C, Scott Price, executive director-elect of the S.C. School Boards Association, said, “It is deplorable that South Carolina’s leaders have wasted 21 years fighting in court for the right to continue providing a substandard education to the state’s poorest children — two decades, plus legal fees and court costs, that we could have used to change for the better.”

Legal fees and court costs — just part of the cost we pay for our backwardness.