Rejecting Republican-led efforts to impose more severe sanctions, the House voted yesterday to reprimand Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) for bringing discredit upon Congress because of his actions on behalf of a male prostitute.

The 408 to 18 vote to reprimand Frank followed a wrenching four-hour debate in which the normally painful duty of punishing a colleague on ethics charges erupted into a divisive floor battle in which Frank's sexuality was a strong undercurrent.

Frank is the seventh member of the House ever to be reprimanded, a punishment that requires a House vote but which does not affect seniority or official status.

Yesterday's dramatic debate, during which Frank took the floor to apologize to his colleagues and concede that he had erred, concluded an 11-month personal and political ordeal for the Massachusetts Democrat that began last August with newspaper accounts of his relationship with prostitute Stephen L. Gobie.

Frank at that time admitted he had paid Gobie for sex, had a brief sexual relationship with him and hired him as a personal aide, paying him out of personal funds until he fired him in 1987 after discovering Gobie was using his apartment for prostitution.

Before upholding the unanimous recommendation by the 12-member House ethics committee that Frank be reprimanded, the House turned aside attempts to expel and censure Frank for his conduct.

The ethics committee recommended the reprimand last week, after months of being deadlocked. It concluded that Frank had broken House rules by fixing 33 parking tickets he and Gobie received and by writing a memo that contained misleading information on Gobie and which ultimately found its way into the possession of a law enforcement official involved in Gobie's probation on felony sex and drug convictions.

Addressing his colleagues as the House debated whether to censure him -- a stronger sanction that would have cost him a subcommittee chairmanship -- Frank said, "I am here to offer an apology and an explanation . . .These mistakes are mine."

Frank, who acknowledged publicly his homosexuality in June 1987, told the House that those mistakes stemmed from his desire to conceal his sexual preference. "There was in my life a central element of dishonesty," Frank told the hushed chamber. "Three years ago I decided concealment wouldn't work -- I wish I had decided that long ago."

Earlier, Frank -- occasionally fidgeting and biting his nails -- sat surrounded by a protective cordon of his Massachusetts colleagues and liberal members of the Democratic caucus, as Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Calif.) urged the House to expel him.

Disputing the conclusions the ethics committee drew from the evidence, Dannemeyer argued that Frank countenanced the use of his apartment for prostitution and said the House had no choice but to expel him. "He is not on trial today," said Dannemeyer, "the House of Representatives is on trial."

But Dannemeyer -- who last year gave a floor speech in which he graphically described gay sexual practices and vowed to "affirm the heterosexual ethic at every turn" -- also portrayed the Frank case as part of a "cultural war" between the "Judeo-Christian ethic" and what he termed "moral relativism."

With that, the atmosphere on the House floor turned poisonous, and Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Calif.), the normally reserved and placid chairman of the ethics panel, lashed out at Dannemeyer. Accusing his California colleague of using "edited, selective garbage," Dixon said that Dannemeyer had prejudged the case against Frank months ago because of Frank's "lifestyle."

"Barney Frank does not stand accused of stealing money, taking bribes or selling his office," added Rep. Thomas M. Foglietta (D-Pa.), "Barney Frank is accused of being stupid and, my friends, if being stupid were grounds for expulsion, there'd be very few of us left here."

The House then rejected the expulsion resolution 390 to 38 with two Democrats and 36 Republicans voting to expel.

At a news conference later, Frank was asked about Dannemeyer's motivations, and said, "there is something about homosexuality that sets Mr. Dannemeyer to vibrating. I don't know what it is."

After the expulsion votes, Republicans led by party whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) sought to censure Frank, a punishment which has been used only 22 times in the history of the House.

Gingrich did not dispute the ethics committee's investigation, but argued that the infractions it found were worthy of a censure.

Led by Dixon, members of the ethics committee defended their recommendation. "This man has suffered, and rightfully so," said Dixon. "We gain nothing by piling on."

"We are here to prosecute, not to persecute," added ethics committee member Fred Grandy (R-Iowa).

However, three of Grandy's GOP colleagues on the ethics committee -- Rep. Thomas E. Petri (Wis.), Rep. Larry E. Craig (Idaho) and Rep. James V. Hansen (Utah) -- voted to upgrade the sanction to censure as the House rejected Gingrich's motion 287 to 141. Twelve Democrats and 129 Republicans voted for the stronger penalty, while 241 Democrats and 46 Republicans voted against it.

The debate on the House floor was a sharp contrast to the decorous way the Senate denounced Sen. Dave Durenburger (R-Minn.) for financial improprieties. Yesterday's spectacle included hissing and applause on the floor, and clapping in the public galleries.

Democrats were particularly angered by Gingrich's decision to push for a censure of Frank, only months after the same ethics committee had cleared him of allegations of wrongdoing stemming from a book publishing deal.

"The ethics committee was smart when it ran {former speaker Jim} Wright out of town, it became brilliant when it exonerated Newt and all of a sudden they've become dumb?" said Rep. Dennis E. Eckart (D-Ohio.).

Newt's political posturing is not lost on us."

Lawmakers were also acutely aware that yesterday's votes might be used against them in November, and most of the Democrats who voted to expel and censure Frank are from conservative southern districts.

THE CASE AGAINST FRANK

In its report on the 10-month investigation into the relationship of Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) with male prostitute Stephen L. Gobie, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct found that Frank:

Brought discredit on the House by fixing 33 parking tickets he and Gobie received that were not incurred in connection with official congressional business.

Brought discredit on the House by writing a memo that included misleading information on Gobie and was eventually transmitted to a law enforcement official involved in Gobie's probation on sex and drug convictions. The panel said that Frank "should have reasonably anticipated" that the memo would be communicated to law enforcement officials and thus the incident could be "perceived" as an attempt to use political influence on Gobie's behalf. In the memo, Frank said Gobie was living up to the requirements of his probation, when he knew that Gobie was engaging in prostitution, and that he had met Gobie through mutual friends, when he had met Gobie by answering an ad for an escort service.

Did not know, as had been charged, that Gobie was using his Capitol Hill apartment for prostitution activities.

Did not engage in sex with Gobie in the House gymnasium.