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Rep. Christine Johnson knows it could take years to win passage by the Utah Legislature for her bill aimed at protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers from job discrimination. Many years.

Still, she's in it for the long haul, and we congratulate her for standing up for equal rights for these Utahns. It's a battle that has to start somewhere.

Johnson, one of three openly gay Utah legislators, is carrying the banner for her constituents and other gay and transgender Utahns, many of whom have described to her their fear of being ostrasized or even fired if they are open about their sexual orientation or their gender identity.

Utah law should not tolerate these people living in fear of losing their livelihood if they are honest about who they are. Anti-discrimination statutes now forbid unequal treatment of any employee based on race, color, sex, pregnancy, age (40 and over), religion, national origin or disability. Discrimination against anyone, simply because they belong to a specific group, should be illegal.

Adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list simply puts into Utah code a recognition that all Utahns deserve the same civil rights and bosses in the workplace are obliged to base personnel decisions on only two things: qualifications and performance.

Specifically, Johnson's legislation, House Bill 89, would list gender identity and sexual orientation as categories for claims under the state's anti-discrimination law, as do 11 other states. Nine have included only "sexual orientation." Her bill allows exceptions for religious organizations and businesses with fewer than 15 employees.

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, sees no need to protect this particular group from unfair treatment.

"Homosexuals . . . work everywhere," she said. "Everybody gets discriminated against sometimes."

That's a poor argument, akin to saying let's do away with speed limits, since most of us have speeded at one time or another. And it's not accurate. A great many Utahns have never been treated unfairly on the job.

For most of those who do experience discrimination, there is recourse under the law. That's not true for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Utahns. But it should be. And it shouldn't take years to make it happen.

Utah law should not tolerate these people living in fear of losing their livelihood if they are honest about who they are.