People wait in line outside the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the orders being issued, in Washington, U.S. March 18, 2019.
People wait in line outside the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the orders being issued, in Washington, U.S. March 18, 2019.

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to decide whether U.S. law banning workplace discrimination on the basis of sex protects gay and transgender workers, as the conservative-majority court waded into a fierce dispute involving a divisive social issue.

At issue in the high-profile legal fight is whether gay and transgender people are covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex as well as race, color, national origin and religion.

The court will take up two cases concerning gay people who have said they were fired due to their sexual orientation, one involving a New York skydiving instructor named Donald Zarda and another brought by a former county child welfare services coordinator from Georgia named Gerald Bostock.

The court also will take up a Detroit funeral home's bid to reverse a ruling that it violated federal law by firing a transgender funeral director named Aimee Stephens after Stephens revealed plans to transition from male to female.

The court will hear oral arguments and issue a ruling in its next term, which starts in October.

President Donald Trump's administration has argued that Title VII does not cover sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Republican president's administration reversed the approach taken under Democratic former President Barack Obama by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces federal laws banning workplace discrimination.

The Title VII fight marks the first major test on a divisive social issue for the nine justices since Trump's conservative appointee Brett Kavanaugh joined the court in October after a contentious Senate confirmation process. Kavanaugh replaced Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative noted for his support for gay rights who retired last year.